Students Choose Their Own Adventure

After three years of teaching photography in a "traditional" manner, I needed to change something. Basically, I assigned all the students the same assignment and gave them two-three weeks to complete them. There were a handful of other smaller assignments thrown into the mix, but the end result was that many of the students wasted time. This year, I got a full lab of computers, up from 20 last year, which was up from 10 the year before. This was going to allow me to move away from film and focus more firmly on digital imagery. This was my moment to take it to the next level.

The first thing I did was meet with a Digital Arts jedi over the summer (no matter who are, there is always an expert out there to help you along). We talked philosophy and some logistics. However, I didn't have his foundation, yet. And photography is just different enough from digital arts, that I needed to find my own path.  I did some changes at the beginning of the school year, but I still got a little hung up on some of the fundamentals of photography and my WordPress multiuser site was hacked and all my student lost their blogs. Then a few weeks ago, as I prepared for the second semester in (and battled the flu), it came to me. Some clarity in a fevered state.  This is exactly where I wanted to go for years now. I just didn't know what it looked like.  

Here is my revised syllabus:

Studio A3 Expectations

  • If you try, you will succeed!

  • Push yourself creatively and technically.

  • Respect Studio A3, yourself, your work station, the class resources, and everyone around you.

Updated Format of the Class
There are a wide array of skills you can learn in photography.  During first semester, most of our time was spent learning the basics of compositional styles, the camera, Lightroom, and Photoshop.  As we enter second semester it is time for a structural shift.

While we will continue to learn the fundamentals of essential topics, we will also many opportunities for you to explore the side of photography that you find most interesting.  If you love shooting, you can take more photos. If Photoshop is your happy place, spend more time there.  It is up to you.  

This is all based upon an idea I learned when I did a training at the Google office in Santa Monica in 2008. They call it 20% time. Basically, for 80% of a Googler’s work week, they do their assigned job.  Then, one day a week, they get to explore their own passions. Some great ideas have filtered up as a result, because when people get to choose what they work on, they generally are more engaged and work harder. For this class, these opportunities are called Challenges.  I have provide a long list of ideas to start with, but I am more than happy to let you go off the map and explore something of your choosing – as long as you give me some justification and show me what you are doing as it unfolds. As the semester continues, I will add more Challenges to the list.

Now this isn’t a free for all. In order to better track your progress, you will complete a Weekly Photography Goals and Accomplishments chart that will be set up in class. You will be responsible for updating this chart at the beginning and end of the week.  This will help you plan your week and ensure that you have time to complete the required elements of the class and any challenges you choose to complete. It will also let me see more clearly, where you are at any given time. Don’t worry if something changes mid-week, just report what changed and what you did instead on Friday.  You might even spend some time stewing over an idea, that’s OK too! We have a couple big conceptual projects in the next few months, I want you to spend some time pondering your way through the creative process.

Images of the Week
Additionally, every two weeks you will upload your best stuff to the appropriate Picasa Album. Not only will everyone else see what you are doing, but I will print a few of them to put up in the classroom.  When I trade them out a couple weeks later, you get to take nice 11×17 prints home!


It goes on, to describe my grading policy here.  The class website can be found here.

Putting Yourself Out There

As I get ready to share the power of Twitter and a PLN with a new crop of SDSU Ed Tech students this week, I am preparing for the standard reaction I always get – I don’t have anything to say.  Part of the issue that many face when they explore the nature of a PLN is that people feel strange putting themselves out there. Who am I to say things publically about education? What can I contributed? My response is that you need to develop and explore what it can be for you. Not every tweet has to point to a golden resource or encompass that perfect moment of zen. Make it what you want it to be and then when you are comfortable, push it a little further. This all part of the beauty of the democratization of the web, we get to lurk or contribute, but the greatest rewards come with our interactions. The strongest PLNs are social. They aren’t just a collection of resources, but people. And to maximize this potential, you have to put yourself out there.

This didn’t come easy or naturally for me, but it dramatically enhanced my professional life.

It is hard to believe that I started this blog in August 2004. So much has changed and evolved since that time, both in my life and in the educational technology world. Back then just handfuls of edubloggers existed, we had our own little PLN going. Some of today’s big fish, were just swimming with the rest of us at that time (I remember Chris Lehman blogging about teaching English, he even commented on my blog a few times).

That’s when I started to really put myself out there. I had already presented at workshops and some conferences, but getting a regular online presence and laying down some of my thoughts and classroom practices for all to see was a big step.  But, it wasn’t one that I did without caution. In the beginning, I didn’t have my name attached to my blog. I was an anonymous history teacher. Plus, I never talked about it to my face-to-face colleagues, even after I put my name on it. Who was I to blog about what I do? How am I any better than anyone else? I am certainly not a better writer than most.

But, I did it for a different reason. Right off the bat, I saw the value of reflection – probably the introvert in me. I think I do a lot of things pretty well, but they can always be better. Or maybe even changed all together for a superior idea. Plus, this crazy thing happened along the way – I became part of a community that was enriching, supportive, thoughtful, collaborative, and inspiring.

Along the way, Twitter happened. That group of edubloggers moved into this new realm, where the conversation expanded exponentially. Life and work pushed me away from regular blogging, but the community that I had come to rely existed in a medium that I allowed me to remain active on my own terms. While I crave reflective time to blog, I can always seek inspiration, ask questions, and participate in the ongoing discussion about the educational world in Twitter.

I think the benefits of opening yourself up and building a network of people that you can reach out to, is well worth the initial anxiety and apprehensions. Like most things in life, it is a process that takes time, but the rewards can change your life.

Technology for Teachers – Key Concepts

I am currently revising a graduate-level Educational Technology class I teach at San Diego State University called Advanced Technology for Teachers. I spent a lot of time coming up with individual topics, but realized I needed some bigger topics that would define the key concepts I hope to get across.

After ditching my previous goals, I have come up with these defining concepts:

  1. Today’s students are shaped by the numerous technologies that are available. (Topics: Is Google Making us Stupid?, multitasking, digital citizenship)
  2. The role of social media in society and education should be addressed and utilized.
  3. Technology should not be treated as something separate or special, it represents a vast array of tools and strategies that can be integrated regularly. (Topics: Web 2.0 tools, Google Apps for Education, mobile technologies)
  4. A Personalized Learning Network (PLN) can change your perspective on professional development. A PLN can provide on demand staff development, amazing resources, and access to numerous teachers and experts willing sharing their expertise. (Topics: Twitter, Google Reader / RSS, and Podcasts)
  5. Technology tools can be used to help manage an educator’s professional (and personal) lives.

Anything missing? Any thoughts?