Now that we’ve hit our first weekend in the midst of the “Alice Project”, I’m realizing just how ‘absurd’ the project is when one looks at the following realities:
1. Neither the students nor I have done anything like this.
This truly is a ‘beta’ project in every conceivable way. While this may not be terribly off-putting to a student who rarely controls the academic assignments he/she is given, to a teacher this is radical stuff. I’m used to being at the front/center of the room/assignment. For the next 6 weeks, however, I’m just ‘some guy’ who the kids turn to when they deem it necessary.
I exaggerate to make a point, of course. That being said, it’s much more accurate than anything else I’ve ever done as a teacher.
What has been a lovely off-shoot of this reality is that I no longer have to be the all-knowing expert in the room. While I believe I can ‘find’ a reasonable answer or solution — both regarding how we are analyzing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and how we can best use WordPress’ tools to help us develop remarkable digital portfolios — my students are truly rising to the occasion with regards to the text and the technological experience.
They are the best resources I have in terms of what the story can mean (and inspire) and how we can effectively use the technology to showcase a wide array of discoveries, points of view, and portfolio design solutions. Period.
2. Because this is so new, the scope of the project — no matter how well intentioned — is guess work.
While its easy to lay back on mottos like “the journey is the destination”, there are very real consequences if something significant doesn’t go right, the students don’t buy in, the technology fails, and/or the text is a poor fit for the process.
Luckily, fingers very much crossed, we’re progressing quite nicely in spite of uncertain footing ahead. Like one of Joseph Campbell’s heroes entering a vague forest, we simply trust that our destiny lies down the path.
3. Everything we’re doing is ‘live’ from day one. Oh, my!
This literally inverts what typically takes place in a classroom, that is if a classroom project even sees the light-of-day at the end of the unit/experience. Traditionally, most of the academic ‘work’ we ask of our students remains behind closed doors with only the single teacher having any real access to it. This project, however, is immediately global. And that changes everything when you let even the edges of that idea filter down into one’s teacher strategy side of the brain.
Furthermore — and most dangerous/exhilarating — as their teacher, I am no longer their most valuable audience as they consider how to express, edit, or finalize their written and creative work. I’m just one of ‘many’, but certainly not the most important. No. Not even close, actually.
4. Our mistakes and half-steps — both mine and those of my students — are visible from the very beginning.
Instead of hiding them or ‘cleaning up’ everything before going live, our walls are very transparent.
Even more, the very process and rough-cut discoveries along the way ‘are’ our project. Sure, after the 6-week project comes to an end, there will be a ‘finished’ and ‘published’ project that will appear ‘complete’, but along the way each student/team must embrace the fact that what they have done on a day-to-day basis is also ‘the project’ that is recognized by their multiple audiences.
5. I’m wrestling over whether quantity (of blog entries, comments written and received, etc) really matters at this point, esp. if there is only one true ‘deadline.’
I haven’t quite figure out what truly matters ‘today’ in terms of the quantity of work that has been published so far since there is only one ‘deadline’ (when all work must be ‘in’ for final individual and team grades).
Some groups have really come out of the shoot fast, choosing an aggressive writing/publishing/designing schedule.
Others, however, are more modest in terms of current output. Some of this is because they are crafting their drafts via Google Docs well in advance of putting them on the blog. Some are slower, possibly, because they are simply trying to get the hang of the project, the text, the team dynamics, and the technology, let alone the ‘buy-in’ to be invested in the first place.
I also don’t know if its useful to tell all of my students what the ‘tally’ is for team blog entries, individual comments (written and received), site design/layout changes, etc. I probably will, but I’m not sure if that’s a) motivation or b) tangential.
6. It’s time for me to start commenting on the students’ writing (aka ‘blog posts’).
While there are a million moving parts (or so it seems most days), I’m their English teacher first, and their technology guide second. I’ve been very pleased with the vast majority of written analysis so far — esp. since they are literally falling the rabbit hole with this story without any real context or explanation from me (which is because they are a bright group who need to be trusted to discover what they discover) — but I do owe them real feedback as they write.
My goal, after this first weekend, is to begin commenting on over post I see published. Most of it will be idea/argument-based, but some of it needs to be in terms of technical writing, too, although I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve seen so far due to their understanding of the ‘public’ nature of it all.
7. I’ll publish my first Survey Monkey poll on Monday for the kids to fill out.
I’m definitely looking forward to aggregating their reactions to a series of questions re: vision, process, technology, and the story itself.
Likewise, I’m looking forward over time to seeing how their opinions evolve and how I can adjust elements of the project to better ensure success on their part.
As I said earlier, this is all a tad absurd when you really compare it to ‘traditional’ classroom projects.
But I can’t help but also see it as ‘beautifully absurd’.
And that, IMHO, is a good thing indeed.