Participate, just participate

Did you watch the Kony video?

Have you planked?

Have you created a Hitler learns video?

Did you participate #pencilchat?

If you’re a programmer have you investigated node.js?

No? Maybe you should have.

Self-directed learning is dependent of making good informed decisions, the better informed we can be the better decisions we can make about our learning. What to investigate, what not to. Memes and other things become viral because the Internet amplifies things of worth. For self-directed learners this is profound opportunity.

Many of these memes may have short shelf life if they, they spring to life and quickly fade, but what they do is articulate and amplify an important idea or concept. While often they may seem superficial on the surface, the reasons that they become viral is because they contain something deeper. Participating in these memes, leads to a collective sense of understanding of agreement. Pencil chat a short lived twitter hashtag, parodied the absurdness of many schools technology policies. Similarly, the Hitler videos allowed anyone to voice a complaint about anything. Both of these not only raised the issue but also used humour to maybe suggest that sometimes our complaints and concerns are over the top. Other memes draw great attention to new or interesting things, think Kony or node.js.

Of course, none of this would be obvious, or an opportunity for learning, if we didn’t participate. Rather it would be an opportunity lost.

As schools, rather than banning things such as planking, we should be participating in it, rather than ridiculing trying to understand it’s worth. For our students and for us as life-long self-directed learners, the message should be participate, just participate.

The Business Model Canvas

I really like the lean startup movement as a learning community, their work on iterative project design and measuring real metrics (as opposed to vanity metrics) is really interesting.


Recently I “discovered” the Business Model Canvas designed by Alex Osterwalder. The canvas is used to map out a business model against nine building blocks.


Business Model Canvas Explained

Alex gave the canvas a creative commons license so lots of people and sites use it. One of those was Steve Blank from Harvard Business School who uses it to teach entrepreneurship. Steve also started Lean Launch Lab, which has taken the business model canvas, and turned it into a web application. The most interesting thing is that the canvas isn’t static its iterative, imagine a graphic organiser meets a wiki. Note: Lean Luanch Lab wasn’t the first to do this, if you want a have a play with a simple iterative graphic organiser go here, no sign up needed.


I believe that the opportunities for formal and informal learning are profound. As schools we try to pretend that authentic projects move from a known problem along a linear step by step path to a known solution. This is not the case. If our students are to tackle real authentic problems and projects that do not have a known solution, and often do not even have a known problem, then we need to approach project based learning in a new way.

At the lab, inspired by the business model canvas, we’ve begun investigating how these projects might look. Our first step has been to create a project template in BuddyPress that individuals or groups can use to track their projects. We believe this not only leads to greater learning along the way, but the transparent nature of the tool, with every project visible, allows students to learn from and with each other. We’re about to begin some trials with this, if you are undertaking student projects and you’d like to trial with us, please get in touch.

For our iterative graphic organiser,  we currently using: Project Goal, What we know, What we need to find out, How we will find it out, What we have learnt. Down the track we’ll try other templates, again, I would be interested in hearing any ideas on this.

Transforming digital writing on Monday (and Someday)

Occasionally, I get accused of being “too big picture” and not practical enough. I’ve decided to start blogging about how these ideas might look in the classroom. I’ll tag these posts with “For Monday”

“My answer is that if you have a vision of Someday you can use this to guide what you do Monday.”
Seymour Papert 

In cherish plagiarism I argued that complex and creative work is always built upon the ideas of others and the individual isolate inspiration is a myth. So how might this new view of copyright and creativity be realised in the classroom.

Take writing for example. Our typical classroom approach for narrative writing still operates the same way as it did when I was at school. All students working on the same task, each starting with a blank piece of paper, or a blank screen, and working in isolation. While there may be some discussion between students together, the writing is largely isolated and individual.

This is not how writing happens in the real world. When faced with a complex task, good writers look for sources that they can reuse, that they can build upon. Good writers do not start from scratch and good writing is not isolated and it is not individual.

Modern word processors now have powerful collaboration features built into them. It is easy for multiple authors to work on a single piece of work, using track changes to review or using merging tools to combine and track changes between different versions of the same document. It is now extremely easy to share our work simultaneously with a large number of people. It is easy to get feedback. It is easy to allow others to improve our work.

What are the opportunities we now have for narrative writing?

Building upon the work of others
Students create a character profile, save it to shared location. Other students then choose a couple of characters from the pool of characters to include in their story.

Students create a character profile, save it to shared location. Other students choose a character at random from the pool and improve the character in some way before saving it back into the pool.

Students build upon characters from a movie or a novel to create a new piece of work.

Students save a completed story into a shared location. Other students then choose a story at random and write an alternative ending.

Students rewrite a story from the point of view a different character. The source may be another student’s work or a work sourced from outside of the classroom.

Providing feedback
Students send their half completed story to three other students who use the track changes feature to offer suggestions on how the story could be developed.

Students use track changes to write an alternative beginning to their story, they send it to three other students for feedback.


These examples are far from complete, would love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Note: For the purposes of this article I haven’t looked at networked writing on the Internet, where the opportunities for collaboration and coauthoring are obviously great.