Monday, 22 December 2014

Let's Face It, This Blog Has Been on Hiatus

I am a lazy blogger. There are times when I post regularly (usually when I attend courses and workshops) and there are times when I don't post anything for a month or two. I stopped apologising for my silences long ago. Blogging takes time and I don't always have time. Still, this year I feel I owe you all an explanation, if not an apology.

I started the year well. I wrote a couple of posts which I believe were quite good. Then, since March, nothing. Silence.

Has this blog been on hiatus? If so, why?

I never planned to take a break from blogging, but, as you'll see, things happened. One of the "things" that happened was my other blog. I believe people with multiple blogs often have this problem, but in my case it was drastic.

Summer Blues is my poetry blog. I started it in August 2011, when I finally plucked up the courage to start sharing my hobby with the world. Not much was happening there until April 2013, when I participated in my first NaPoWriMo poetic challenge. NaPoWriMo is held every April and you post a poem a day. Despite its name, it is international. I started the challenge tentatively, but like a good nerd, I posted a poem (sometimes even two) every day. I met great people who encouraged me to persevere.

I have to say that in 2013 the challenge didn't really do any harm to my teaching blog, except that  it kept me from posting here for a month. We could argue that I took the challenge more seriously in 2014 (I once again managed to post every day), but this time other things happened as well.

OK, the culprit is my kidney. For the past four months I have been trying to get rid of kidney stones. This hasn't happened to me for the first time, but this time it has been much, much worse than usual. As anyone who has had them will tell you, kidney stones are nasty. Believe me, the last thing on your mind when you have kidney colics is blogging.

If you have just been to my other blog and if you are observant, you will notice that I managed to post there every day during November, the month I was supposedly incapacitated by kidney stones. In fact, I succeeded in completing another poetry challenge.

When you are in pain, poetry helps. You can vent and complain. I don't normally complain in my TEFL blog, and I rarely vent. Besides, to write about TEFL, I need the classroom. I need to be teaching in order to get new blogging ideas. This autumn I was on sick leave for six weeks.

However, I am back now and I am eager to start blogging. Natasa's Blog will be seven years old in January and in November it was 25 years since I had started teaching. These are important milestones and I have so much I want to share with you in 2015.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Navigating the Chaos

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

I am incorrigible. The five weeks of EVO finished a long time ago and here I am writing about Week 3. If you go through my last year's posts (for example, here), you will notice that this is not unusual. For me, real learning starts after the sessions are over. I go through the tasks I skipped, finish the readings and try to stay in touch with the community. And, from time to time, I even post something to my blog.

This year I chose to organise my weekly reflections around #rhizo14 challenges. #Rhiso14 is not even an EVO session, but I did sign up initially because it was my #MultiMOOC "homework" to sign up for a really massive online course and then observe what was happening. I only ever heard about #rhizo14 through #MultiMOOC.

#Rhizo14 was organised around weekly challenges. The challenge in Week 3 was to embrace uncertainty.

Photo Credit: Russ Allison Loar via Compfight cc

In Dave's own words:

We've spent two weeks talking about power - first from the student's perspective and then from the facilitators perspective. Come down the rabbit hole with me my friends. At the heart of the rhizome is a very messy network, one where not all the dots connect to all the lines. No centre. Multiple paths. Where we have beliefs and facts that contradict each other. Where our decisions are founded on an ever shifting knowledge base. Our challenge this week... how do we make our learning experience reflect (and celebrate) this uncertainty?

Dave goes on to ask:

How do we make embrace uncertainty in learning? How do we keep people encouraged about learning if there is no finite achievable goal? How do we teach when there are no answers, but only more questions?

During this same week in #Multimooc, Vance Stevens talked about chaos in learning and its resolution through networking. Here's the link to the audio. And here are Vance's slides:

Chaos in learning: Engaging learners in resolving chaos through networking from Vance Stevens

As you will see, the slides contain additional resources on chaos in learning. In the words of George Siemens: "...but if an instructor makes sense and gives you all the readings and sets the full path in place for you then you are eviscerating the learner's experience."

Yes, but how do you navigate chaos? Maureen Crawford suggests that we Press Pause, Let Go, Let Flow. In her own words:

       "When I try to navigate and respond to the Internet by only using the meta-lanuages of          speech, writing, math and scientific method, I find that often my expectations do not            align with what I am experiencing. If I take a fairly linear approach, thinking that I                  can comprehensively absorb or connect dots with what I already know I quickly find              that there are too many choices, possible directions, and things to be taken into                      consideration. Being methodical and trying to deal thoroughly with one aspect before            moving onto the next does not work particularly well – it is a reflection of my trying to          use old methods with new technology. There is a mismatch – neither one works well            and I become overwhelmed. The Internet is liquid not solid. To navigate I need to                 swim, to take flow into consideration – or as Marshal McLuhan would say, 
        “to use my wit“. Internet Lingo demands navigation by improvisation. When I begin to         feel that too much is happening I need to let go. Giving myself permission play, to let             go,  or to press pause is appropriate and results in the creation of a personal, healthy             Internet ecology!!"

In his webinar, Vance talks about serendipitous learning. If you need to know something, it will find its way to you. If you miss it the first time, it will come back. Trying to absorb it all at once is impossible. It is also unnecessary. Letting go is the first step.

The second step is networking. During Week 3 there was one more webinar in MultiMOOC. Ali Bostanciogly talked about Technology Professional Development: Networking and Online Communities. Here's the link to the MP3. Ali talked about the difference between networks and communities and how they can help us in our professional development.

This was the week when History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education started on Coursera. I have really enjoyed this course and I am going to share a couple of things that fit nicely with the topic of this post. First of all, let me remind you of this video:

Did you see it? I did. But then, I wasn't very good at counting those balls. Maybe because the activity was boring (and I am terrible at boring repetitive tasks). Maybe I am good at multitasking. Or maybe I have an attention deficiency, which is why you wouldn't want me to count your money for you or be a basketball referee when your favourite team is playing.

In the first chapter of her book Now You See it (titled "I'll Count, You Take Care of the Gorilla"), professor Davidson talks about why collaboration has become a necessity in the modern world full of distracting stimuli. She uses the term "collaboration by difference" - we need people who can count and we need people who can spot the gorilla. We also need teachers who can bring together different personalities and teach them how to cooperate. Or maybe the kids will find ways to learn how to cooperate on their own. Isn't that what rhizomatic learning is all about?

Tags: #rhizo14, #MultiMOOC, #evomlt, #evosessions, #futereEd

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Publishing My First Ebook Chapter

EVO sessions finished last week. So far I have been giving you weekly updates and, as far as those go, I am still stuck in Week 3, but today I would like to do something different. I am going to put together my EbookEVO artifacts, because it makes more sense to do this in a single blog post. EbookEVO was one of the best EVO sessions I have ever attended. The course taught us, step by step, how to write a chapter of an interactive e-book. What I'll try to do in this post is show you just how brilliant the whole idea was. This is my way of saying "Thank you" to the moderators.

The goal of the workshop was for us to complete our chapter. I finished mine and a lot of other people got there as well. I have to admit that I was worried at the beginning of the workshop. I thought it would be much harder than it was and that I might not get to the end. Now all I want is to write more chapters.

My two collaborators, Sneza and Milica, finished their chapters too. The three of us are planning to finish the whole book. Here's Sneza's chapter and here's Milica's.

And this is how the course was organised:

Week 1 was devoted to introductions. 3-2-1 was a popular introduction format in this year's EVO. It is a nice way to introduce yourself and (if you are an old EVO participant like me) maybe reveal something that others haven't heard yet. What was refreshing about the 3-2-1 introduction in #EbookEVO was that we were given a choice of tools and told to use one of them and create a 3-2-1 digital story about ourselves. Here's mine:

Kudos to the moderators for the inspiring questions. I swear that my saying I wanted to be a travel writer had something to do with the topic I chose for my chapter. I didn't plan this, it just happened.

Here's what was in store for us in Week 2:

During the second week, you will:

  • evaluate the current content in your textbooks
  • evaluate various ebook designs to determine how you want to design your e-textbook
  • decide what you would like to include in your e-textbooks
  • map out the content you have to cover in your curriculum
  • outline your e-textbooks
  • evaluate your peers' outlines and provide feedback
  • discover basic design elements and tips from experienced authors
  • attend a live online session with moderators

While I was outlining my e-textbook, I started daydreaming. What would the perfect textbook for the new age be like? Surely not something static or linear that you had to read from cover to cover? Here's my dream e-textbook(with apologies because I have already shared it in this post):

Week 3 was the mind-mapping week. We got into more detail with what we wanted to include in our chapter and then we mapped the chapter out. I was surprised to find out that I had a very clear idea about what I wanted to include in my chapter. Here's the mind map. A really bad side of Popplet is that it is not embeddable (even though the website claims it is). Here's the Jing capture, hope it does the trick:

In Week 4 our goal was to complete a part of Chapter 1 and post it for peer feedback. I used Storify:

Yes, I know that Storify doesn't really look like a book. I wonder if that matters. We don't read on the Internet the way we used to. Isn't a wiki really a book? Doesn't the same go for a blog? Maybe the Storify isn't as appealing visually as some other tools, but doesn't its functionality make up for that?

And I would like your honest opinion on this because in Week 5 I remixed my chapter and created a Glossi.. I am leaving the Glossi for the end of this post because Blogger refuses to publish any text after my Glossi ebook. Is this Glossi's fault, or Blogger's? I don't know, but here I am trying to republish this post for the third time.

Glossi does improve the visual design of my ebook, but it lacks the functionality of Storify. And, speaking of functionality, my own personal favourite is still a wiki.

Here you are - the same materials, three different tools. Which do you like best? And why?

I owe special thanks to the Wonderful Words moderators, who have provided me with the tools I needed to create vocabulary exercises for this unit.

Photo on Flickr by mcamcamca

I feel empowered. Internet is full of open educational resources and authentic materials that can be adapted to every student's needs. The OERs can be put together like Lego bricks. Each one of them can be taken out when it is no longer needed, or reused and remixed on another occasion. Ebooks can be offered in different formats, depending on the teacher's personal taste, the students' computer skills, or the ways the materials are going to be seen (in a computer lab, at home computers, or on mobile devices). I still have so much to learn. My ebook writing journey has only begun.

Thank you, #ebookevo team. You rock.

Photo on Flickr by Caro Wallis

And now, here's my Glossi:

Tags: #ebookevo, #evosessions, #TEFL

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Week 2 - On Badges, Enforced Independence and Dream Ebooks

As Week 4 begins in my various MOOCs, I am still still catching up on Week 3, while trying to blog about Week 2. We were busier than usual at work during "week 2". It was the end of the term and we had exams. I was tempted to jump straight to Week 3, but then this story that I am telling in installments would have been missing a chapter. Even though I didn't manage to do much homework that week, interesting things were still happening.

In Rhizomatic Learning, Dave Cormier posted the following question:

Learning rhizomatically is the goal, but how do we get there? The position of teachers is based on whole set of power structures that create a reliance on the teacher for setting objectives, assessing progress and giving direction. How can we take people who've spent their whole lives believing that this is 'learning' and MAKE them independent?

As I have said, I didn't do much work during week 2 week, so I didn't post my answer to this question. However, I spent a lot of time thinking about it. Can you enforce independence? Isn't it a paradox?

I keep meeting the same people over and over again in my various MOOCs. They move across platforms effortlessly and they are constantly participating in new MOOCs and communities of practice. These people somehow manage to navigate multiple platforms and cope with information overload. They have obviously reached the level of independence that is required for online learning. They share resources, post their reflections, notes and mind-maps and often create a course-within-the-course. With Coursera courses you learn most intensively not from the lectures, not in the forums, but in student-created Facebook groups. Some of these students have their own blogs, others Tweet or bookmark. When a MOOC doesn't meet their expectation, they simply walk out. Once the MOOC finishes, they continue to share in their Facebook group.

After 6 years online, I think I can safely say that I am one of them. I don't remember how I reached this level of independence. I am not sure it can be taught. Self-taught perhaps. Can it be enforced? Well, you know the joke involving a lightbulb and a psychiatrist.

The lightbulb has got to really WANT to change.

Still, there are some things that good teachers do that can be applied to a MOOC:

  • Good teachers model the behaviour they want to see. Al Filreis recorded his ModPo videos as round table discussions because that was the behaviour he wanted to see in the forums. Denise Comer used a pseudonim to write and submit essays in her writing MOOC, exposing herself to the infamous Coursera peer reviews. She then reflected on the activity and showed us how we could benefit from any kind of review we got.
  • Good teachers create an environment in which it is safe for you to experiment and make mistakes. As one students said in Al's webcast when he put her on the spot: " The worst thing I can do is be wrong."
  • Good teachers leave you some autonomy. If I want to do my homework in my blog or in a Facebook group, that should be acceptable.
  • Good teachers don't spoon-feed you information, they let you find some of it on your own. 
  • Good teachers are humble. They will let you teach them what you know and they will give you the credit for that.
  • Good teachers plan carefully, so that they give you the best possible course. Despite this, or because of this
  • Good teachers are willing to improvise and make on-the-spot changes of curriculum, platforms, or any other element of the course. 
  • Good teachers use the platform so that it suits their needs and the needs of their students. Read how Al Filreis used Coursera to create something amazing.
I could go on and on. I have seen a lot of great teachers during these six years online. I have seen quite a few that were not so great, but I learnt as much from them as I did from the first group. The online world changes so quickly. What worked yesterday might not be suitable tomorrow. Which is why I have created the Relearner badge I started this post with.

We learnt about badges in MultiMOOC, thanks to Jim Buckingham who gave this inspiring lecture:

The whole topic of open online badges is new to me. One of the reasons why I am fascinated by them is that they give you credit for studying what you want, even if it is just a single unit in a course. Instead of getting a certificate for the whole MOOC, you can get a badge for the unit you studied. Badges are transferable, so that you can share them in your eportfolio, on your website or on any one of your profiles.

I would like to learn more about badges and this is something I am leaving for after EVO is over. There are a few online courses that teach you how to use badges. I intend to go through one or two of them (there is a great one on P2PU). In the meantime I have joined Credly and created the "Relearner" badge I started this post with. Relearning is one of the topics of my next blog post.

Relearning is something I am practicing in EVO. One important lesson I learnt in Mobile Assisted Language Learning in Week 2 is that what's really mobile in MALL are not the devices, but the learners and the resources. I was one of the first teachers in Serbia who got hooked on CALL, but I am late with mobile learning. I only got my first Android device in November. Since then I have had to relearn a couple of things.

In Ebookevo we worked on the visual design of our ebooks. We got to daydream a little and create our dream ebooks. Here's mine:

Two weeks later, as I am struggling with real ebook tools, I have realised that there is no tool that could create such an ebook at the moment. Still, one can always dream. And I know that one day they will create a perfectly interactive ebook. When that time comes, we will have to relearn the way we read.

Tags: #2014evo, #ebookevo, #evomlit, #evosessions, #kolaracebookevo, #rhizo14, #TEFL, #multimooc, #learning2gether, #mooc

Thursday, 23 January 2014

My Blog Is Six Years Old

                                                             Photo Credit: massdistraction via Compfight cc

My blog and I happen to share the same birthday. Although the day has officially finished, the early morning hours find me still at my computer. Until an hour ago Google was still displaying the Happy Birthday, Natasa doodle:

Awfully nice of Google if you ask me.

Traditionally on this day I look back at the year behind me and create a "sneeze post" where I list everything I wrote the year before. I didn't write that much last year, but I somehow managed to create 12 posts. Here they are:

As always, the beginning of the year is devoted to EVO sessions. Like this year, in 2013 I also attended five. In Time to Fess Up I tried to explain how I was planning to "juggle five balls" and why I thought this was a good way to learn. This blog was what kept it all together. It helped me see connections between courses. I am doing the same thing again and I am going to blog about my experience.

By providing the link to My Blog is Five Years Old I am trying to cheat you into reading last year's retrospective of my 2012 posts.

Week 2 - Declare, Where is (you guessed) about Week 2 of 2013 EVO sessions. In the meantime I had thrown into the mix a couple of very interesting MOOCs and I had made my mind where I wanted to participate actively and where I just wanted to sample.

In Tales of the Unexpected I had already started to synthetise my various learning experiences. One course that got most of my attention was E-learning and Digital Cultures. If you go to my post, you will be able to get a glimpse of what this course was like. I also shared this Prezi that was to serve as my mini portfolio:

On Metaphors, the Future and the Way We Are Wired is a fun post to read (even if I am saying so) because it contains a couple of digital stories I created that week, a great SF short video (from E-learning and Digital Cultures), Gardner Campbell's inspiring keynote and a Slideshare on edupunk that I found in the MultiMOOC wiki archives. I somehow mixed it all together.

What Makes Us Human is the last installment of my exciting five week learning journey. Again there are digital stories I created that week - several images and an Animoto SF story that I am very proud of.

Then interesting things started happening to me. In March I was sent to Slovenia as one of the two official representatives of ELTA Serbia. There I met two of my online friends face to face for the first time - Shelly Terrell and Sasa Sirk. Here's my account of the conference. I tried to go into as much detail as possible to give the people who were not present an idea about what it was like.

In May I presented on the Virtual Round Table Conference and also participated in a SEETA Webchat. I wrote about that here.

Seven Reasons Why Educators Should Blog is a post I wrote as homework for a writing MOOC I participated in. I worked very hard on this post to make it as presentable as possible and I did a lot of research. I also put my heart into it.

How I Became a Teacher is (of course) a story about how I became a teacher. It was an answer to a blogging challenge.

In October I presented at the Reform Symposium and I announced it here. Here's the link to my Reform Symposium profile.

Probably the most important post I wrote last year is this one. It announces the beginning of a blogging project that a couple of us started on SEETA. At the moment we have a small but active community of bloggers there and the seeds of an ebook that should, if all goes as planned, be of some help to new and wannabe bloggers.

As you can see, a lot of things have been happening outside this blog - the online conferences, various MOOCs, the seeds of my SEETA project. However, I believe that this blog, this six-year-old child of mine has made a lot of this possible. Not only did it hold everything together by helping me think and reflect, but it provided new opportunities and new connections.

Thank you, blog.


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