Digital storytelling tools and TIME

Hello, this is Wesley Fryer from “Moving at the Speed of Creativity.” At Dean’s invitation I’m going to be guest blogging here this week, sharing a few thoughts and probably exploring a few new tools. I’ll start by thanking both Dean and Alan Levine for their modeling lessons on using Voicethread. Voicethread is one of many tools I’ve previously heard about and briefly visited, but not actually used or even seen in action until reading Dean’s latest post and playing his demo. Wow! Isn’t it amazing how the envelope of communication possibilities keeps getting extended with web 2.0 tools like this? Looking back at my social bookmarks for “digital storytelling,” I see that I saw and saved the Voicethread site last month on May 16th, but I haven’t been back to the site to explore or think about it until this evening.

Another digital storytelling (and specifically “podcasting”) website I’ve learned about lately (from Bob Sprankle) but not yet tried personally is PodcastPeople. As I work with teachers interested in helping their students create and share their digital stories, generally creating an audio podcast with a tool like Audacity is the easy part. The more complicated discussion happens after the podcast is created, the “now what?” question. PodcastPeople (similar to Gcast, but according to Bob faster to use and setup in a workshop) takes care of many of the “now what” issues for podcasting, including creating the web feed.

I am sure I’m not alone in being frustrated at times with the quantity and power of these new tools which continue to come out almost every day, and the LACK of time I have to adequately explore and play with them. Another tool Bob has discussed recently in his Bit By Bit Podcast series is LibraryThing. In thinking about how I might be able to designate, or set aside, tools like these that I not only want to save for future reference, but also be sure I return to and explore in greater detail, I’ve created a new tag category for “tools I want to try.” I am fortunate to have a relatively large amount of flexibility in my current work schedule, especially compared to a K-12 classroom teacher (during the school year of course, not the summer.) I would guess teacher frustration at not having enough time to explore and use these tools can often be orders of magnitude greater than mine!

At our state leadership conference here in Oklahoma the past two days, several of the conversations I had with others focused on the issue of TIME and its scarcity for both teachers and students in our schools. The issue is NOT simply needing students to be in school sitting in class for longer periods of time, as our state superintendent made headlines promoting today, but rather finding creative and effective ways to provide more FLEXIBLE time for both teachers and students to explore, collaborate, and share.

One of the best suggestions I’ve heard to date about this was from Alan November several years ago at the TCEA conference in Austin, Texas. Alan mentioned visiting a school in east Asia where half the day students went to traditional classes, but the other half of their day they worked in their “offices” at school completing assignments and working on projects with others. We have a noticeably greater level of discussion these days about school reform, creativity, and flat-world competition. Our state superintendent actually showed the “Did You Know” presentation video by Karl Fisch. Rather than suggest thinking and acting in ways suggested by Daniel Pink, however, in response to all these flat-world changes… much of the conversations I hear seem stuck in discussions about doing “old school” with a new wrapper. I told someone today that I was most interested in promoting 2nd order change in education, rather than just 1st order evolutionary, minor change. Rather than trying to just put a new wrapper on an old sandwich, I’m searching for a new sandwich altogether.

The Oklahoma Creativity Project is one initiative that sounds promising, as does the focus on creativity and innovation embodied in the refresh to the ISTE NETS standards we heard about two weeks ago at NECC in Atlanta. Educational reforms need to go beyond “wrapper level” tweaks, however, and get to core issues. Most important among those issues is TIME. As I discussed in my NECC presentation about “school 2.0,” learning should no longer be formally constrained by traditional bell schedules. Schools should not be paid based simply on the amount of total time students have warmed seats in their building. We’ve got to not only question but actually CHANGE fundamental assumptions about public schooling, in the United States and elsewhere, and advocating for that type of “second order” change is inherently disruptive and often uncomfortable.

I absolutely love digital storytelling: I love listening to and watching digital stories, I love creating digital stories, and I love helping other people create them. The biggest challenge I face on all these fronts, however, is the same: TIME. Time is zero sum, we don’t get any more of it, and once it’s gone we can’t get it back. What are the most valuable ways for you to spend your limited heartbeats today and tomorrow? Choosing to engage in the consumption or creation of digital stories can often be a good answer to that question, but if you’re like me there is generally not enough TIME to make that choice.

We’re in the midst of an educational sea change. The tools keep proliferating, and the democratized power those tools offer us keeps increasing as well. Personally, I’m thrilled to be alive in 2007. There is more to learn than ever before, but also more tools at our fingertips to connect with each other and learn from one another. Twitter is significant not because of the technological aspect of the service, but because of the connective power it offers to connect us in personal ways to each other throughout the day. I’m thankful to Dean, Alan, Bob S, and many others for being innovators and early adopters of new digital, collaborative technologies and sharing their learning journey with our online educational community. If I wasn’t “plugged in” to the collective consciousness of digital edu-learning happening out here, I’m sure I’d feel much more overwhelmed by the diverse array of technology tools and options which surround us. As it is, I’m sometimes overwhelmed, but I always know there are supportive voices out there to help me process and learn as I can find the TIME. 🙂

It’s like we’re all part of the Borg, but a good, benevolent Borg! 🙂

Borg laser disc

  • There’s a lot to assimilate here.
    The question this brings to mind is in relation to the issue of time: We know the problem, where are the teams of people working on a solution.
    In the fall, I begin my Master’s work in Educational Leadership. When selecting a program of study, I considered three options: ed. leadership, curriculum and instruction and technology integration. The chose frustrated me because each implied that it existed independently of the other.
    If this is the mindset, how is a solution ever possible?
    My inclination is to ask for a systems approach. My reaction to my own thinking is that a systems approach will only end in failure. The network of interconnectivity is nebulous and ever-changing – tools, participants, norms – they are all in constant flux. This isn’t an assembly line problem.
    The other option is that of the starfish ( My rejection of that approach comes from an understanding of those who run the machine. This (education) is a top-down outfit. The idea of de-centralization is a frightening one.
    So, from whence will a tested, effective, authentic, replicable “model” come?
    One thing is clear, treating curriculum and instruction, technology integration and ed. leadership as three separate fields isn’t getting us any closer.
    Thank you for making me think.

  • Good points, Zac. The educational system certainly is a complex adaptive system which, to be realistic (as all models and strategies for change should strive to be) requires system level thinking. Single tweaks or a series of tweaks cannot generally redirect the broad course of a complex adaptive system. That is one of the fundamental problems with most educational reform proposals. They suggest, “if we just do this, then we’ll improve student achievement the way we want to.” It’s always more challenging and complex than that.

    That being said, however, there certainly ARE many things we can and should be doing to promote constructive change within the educational system. Dialog about TIME and our ubiquitous need to find more of it during the school day to use creatively is an important step. We shouldn’t just stay in the “talk phase,” we’ll need the action phase eventually, but the “talk phase” is critical– and it needs to involve dialog with multiple stakeholders.

    I think you were wise to choose educational leadership rather than technology integration. Certainly technology integration can be an area of focus within both edleadership or C and I, but I think by selecting a broader field you will position yourself to be more flexible and therefore relevant in the future as your career goals and activities continue to evolve.

    You’re very welcome for the ideas that inspired some new thinking. That is my main purpose in blogging, both for myself as well as for others!

  • Just today, my some sheer curious clicking (starting with a link in my twitter space) I discovered 2 new valuable “Tools 2 Try” (love the concept of tagging them, I may hop on that tag myself).

    Many of us, and myself at times, cling to a notion that we can somehow as individuals really have a grasp on most information within our domain of expertise. In terms of the explosion of new web tools, resources daily, this ends up to be a futile treadmill chase. So I shrug and say, “I Cannot or Will Not Pretend to be an Expert” and rely on my electronic circle of colleagues via RSS, twitter, even old listservs to be a aprt of an extended “expert field”.

    And speaking of new tools, I am so excited by not only VoiceThreads, but 3 different web based timeline media creation tools, that I am working on a wiki/workshop called “There Must be 50 Web 2,0 Ways To Tell a Story” (nods to Paul Simon for the soundtrack).

    I hope you keep up the stand for organizations to provide more of this R&D time. Education lags way behind industry in making these a part of their organizational improvement strategies. It was 3M’s granting of 15% time for open wondering to researchers that resulted in accidental invention of PostIt notes. Education, at best provides?? 1% 2% 0.005%?

    Great guest blog, Dean is lucky!

  • Ultrawoman

    Digital Storytelling is Great

    I used Microsoft Photostory the other day – really easy to use -similar to Powerpoint and you can download it from the Microsoft site.