Sunday, November 25, 2012

New publication: Designing with Teachers

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I'm so proud of the release of a new publication, Designing with Teachers: Participatory Approaches to Professional Development. This report represents the collaboration of a working group composed of “a mixture of researchers, teachers and school administrators from a variety of disciplines, schools, and states,” who wanted to better understand how we might best prepare educators in order to incorporate “participatory learning” models into their classroom practices. This working group emerged as part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

The report includes case studies of innovative professional development initiatives (Vital Signs, PLAY, Scratch, Ask Ansai, the Participatory Assessment Project) with a larger exploration of what it might mean to adopt a more participatory model for working with teachers. These “best practices” are shared in a robust multimedia format, which allows you to see media materials produced by these programs and their participants, and in some cases, here educators describe their own experiences.

My co-editor, Ioana Literat, summarizes nicely the key goals and findings in the report’s introduction: The principal goals of this working group were to:
  • Provide a common forum for professional development conversations centered around participatory learning;
  • Foster interdisciplinary dialogue among vested audiences in participatory learning;
  • Identify synergy among members and facilitate learning from each other;
  • Construct a common framework for participatory models of professional development;
  • Extract best practices and lingering challenges in the field; and
  • Build a collection of case studies exemplifying these best practices and share them with the larger community of stakeholders in participatory learning.

Our collective experiences in the realm of professional development and our dialogues within the context of this working group led to the identification and explication of four core values that we consider key to effective participatory PD programs. We believe that these four values, along with the design principles that they inform in practice, are an essential take-away from this multi-stakeholder conversation. Thus, in our view, the values that shape the design of participatory PD are:
  1. Participation, not indoctrinationThere is a critical need, in the field of education, to transition from professional development for teachers to professional development with teachers. Participatory learning relies on a model of “distributed expertise”, which assumes that knowledge, including in an educational context, is distributed across a diffuse network of people and tools. We believe that professional development for teachers should similarly be conceived and implemented in a non-hierarchical, inclusive and partic- ipatory manner, thus modeling the type of dynamic pedagogy that characterizes participatory learning. 
  2. Exploration, not prescriptionIn order to inspire this sense of ownership and co-design in the participants, PD initiatives must allow ample room for personal and professional exploration. Attention must also be paid to what teachers want from a professional development experience, rather than just what is required of them. By allowing teachers to explore who they are and what their professional goals are, the PD program can provide educators with an opportunity to connect to the content and to display their own individuality in the process. 
  3. Contextualization, not abstraction: PD programs should be tailored to the specific questions and particu- lar career goals of the participants. We acknowledge the tension between the desire to create scalable and flexible initiatives, and the need to cater most effectively to specific disciplines and levels of instruction; this challenge is all the more acute when it comes to sharing strategies for integrating media and digital technologies into the classroom. However, we believe that there is a way to reconcile this tension. By addressing the common core standards teachers need to fulfill, while in the same time accounting for the various disciplines and grade levels, program designers can craft versatile PD initiatives that represent – and feel like – a genuine investment in professional growth. 
  4. Iteration, not repetition:In order to sustain ongoing learning, the design of successful PD programs must provide opportunities for constant improvement, troubleshooting, and evaluation. In this sense, assessment emerges as a problematic yet nevertheless vital topic in the realm of professional development implementation. We hope that assessment practices in professional development will increasingly mirror the participatory shift in program design and reflection. 
These values offer a blueprint for an innovative type of professional devel- opment. By incorporating these values into the design of professional development programs, researchers and practitioners can efficiently craft initiatives that are participatory, non-hierarchical, personally and profession- ally meaningful, relevant, flexible and sustainable.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Submit a proposal to the 2013 NAMLE Conference

We are currently accepting proposal submissions for the 2013 NAMLE Conference to be held in Torrance, CA on July 12-13. The theme for this conference is Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media. Disruption is a watchword for the time we live in: competing social networking platforms, ever-shifting working styles, novel job descriptions displacing the old, manifold curricular and performance demands. With all these possibilities vying for our buy-in, it is vital to seek commonalities. It is at the intersections that we will begin to make sense and make use of a media revolution well underway and yet incompletely understood by our educational infrastructure. This conference will highlight the role of media literacy educators’ capacity to take a leading role in this nationwide task.

We are looking for proposals from media literacy educators, advocates, and researchers who use media as the backbone to teaching and who guide students to a thorough understanding of how to practice creative production and critical analysis ethically and responsibly across media.

Submissions are welcomed in any of the five session formats: Workshop (choice of 60 or 90 minute session); Poke, Prod, Provoke Panels (60 minute session, 3-4 panelists); Media Literacy Smackdown (2 minute presentation); What Works: Gimme the Skinny (10 minute presentation); or Fireside Chats (choice of 60, 90 or 120 minute session).

The Conference Program Committee will accept proposal submissions until 11:59 PM PST January 7, 2013. All proposals must be submitted through our 2013 Conference Proposal form. Proposals will undergo rigorous review by a committee of NAMLE members.

For more Call for Proposals information please visit

To submit a proposal, please use the online form at

For additional questions about the review process contact the Proposals Coordinator, Tisha Dejamanee at  For general questions regarding the conference, email Ethan Delavan at

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Flotsam: A Transmedia Play Experience

I'm working at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, in partnership with The Alchemists, to extend the principles of transmedia storytelling into the exciting realm of children’s entertainment and education by exploring the transmedia storytelling opportunities presented by Flotsam - a visual representation that encourages all to discover the fantastical story of the oceans and our relationship to it.

David signing a Flotsam book.
Flotsam was created by the award-winning author David Wiesner and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  In December, we conducted a two-day Think & Do Tank to discuss the potential of leveraging new media affordances for children’s storytelling, learn from the diversity of knowledge and experience that our attendees (including some of our sponsors such as Orange France-Telecom and Warner Brothers) brought with them, and play with ideas and each other in the sandbox (literal and figurative!).

You might be wondering what a Think & Do Tank is?  Over the past two years, I've designed and refined a Think & Do Process at the lab to foster an open space for people of varied disciplines and backgrounds to come together and effectively learn from each other and create together. The Think & Do Process often occurs over multiple sessions with the goal of creating real tangible products / productions. As Albert Einstein famously said, "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." This is not a single or solitary occupation but a collective, an embracing and transforming process of engagement where transparency across disciplines has us “see with new eyes;” to push ourselves and each other to be constant learners, to grow and innovate to better ourselves and the world we live in.

Collective Storytelling of Flotsam
A Think & Do process often is held for, at minimum, a full‐day immersive experience with the potential of extending into one or two additional days. The primary goal of a Think & Do session is to implore the idea of thinking while tinkering, or thinkering. Thinkering, coined by Michael Ondaatje in his novel The English Patient, means to think about something by tinkering with objects relating to the problem under consideration. It usually is unguided, exploratory and collaborative, and often used to explore aspects of difficult problems or to find solutions where none are obvious.  In other words, an active form of thinking. This has become an ideal means to describe a designer’s way of doing things.

Participants come from varied disciplines and backgrounds, are asked to come and be mentally present throughout the entire session, respecting the goal of the day and the resources allotted within the time frame. This also holds true with the group / company involved in the process that has a stake in the final deliverables. This open line of communication before, during and after the Think & Do session helps make the entire process stronger and relevant to everyone’s expectations. Through this process perspectives are synthesized from those who are participating in the creative process and key takeaways with possibilities for incubation of new research‐design projects are identified.

Ideating Opportunities with Transmedia
With Flotsam's Think & Do Tank, there were three big ideas that emerged for which we are now in the process of designing and developing prototypes and which will be shared at the upcoming USC Annenberg Innovation Summit. The “mother narrative” of the Flotsam Transmedia Play Experience will be six story chapters delivered in the form of DIY “explorer kits” that encourage creative remix through the use of a camera that will come as part of the initial kit. These six chapters will extend the digitally dynamic book that we will design for participatory retelling of Flotsam; user generated retelling can be shared as gifts with family members and peers, as well as shared into the Flotsam community though a recursive photo application we are also designing that will connect Flotsam stories and creations to be released and shared.

We will share the conceptual design of the Flotsam Transmedia Play Experience at the upcoming Innovation Summit on March 30th and then continue incubation with focus groups in late April.  So more to come!  I hope in future posts I'll be able to share some of my ideas on how we define Transmedia play, learning and performance.