Monthly Archives: May 2013

Learning how to be an Open Learner….By Being an Open Learner

My colleague Laurel asked me some questions in her comments on my last blog post.

How have you shifted from being a  “stranded evangelist” to a  “connected educator”? What have you learned from the people around you? How has your practice shifted as you listen to the teachers with diverse perspectives? How have they shaped your current best practice?

This model could explain the “how”…


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Or I could explain Open Learning IMO – In My Opinion 🙂


Open Learning is NOT just about being a rock star and following a set of “rules”.


I believe that students, teachers, parents, admin and everyone else learn together – when I say “learner” I am referring to everyone.

I learn more about educational technology from my son than from anyone else, and he is 7.

Chris Hadfield is an inspiration to many learners, and not to others. That’s ok.

I felt like a stranded evangelist when I first started my new job – and now I don’t.

Some people feel uncomfortable with the term stranded evangelist, some aren’t.

I am practicing being an open learner by writing this blog- and the replies – in an open forum.

Being an open learner to me means being vulnerable, being intimidated and pushing through – while often being pushed back.

Being an open learner means listening to other people’s perspectives – really listening….

I have rethought something Alan November told me awhile back….”Verena, when you go in and ask teachers about how they would like to integrate technology, ask them about a project that they love and have already developed. Ask them what they could do to make it even more engaging for students. Discuss how technology can save them time and meet the needs of a wide variety of learners….then sit back and listen with a cup of tea. And every time you want to say something, take a sip of tea – and listen.

But never, never give up on trying to make a difference in meeting the needs of learners.”

Listen, really listen It’s ok to feel differently, but you still need to listen. It helps if you believe in yourself and to that “voice” that is inside of you as well. Listen to different perspectives in the open world.

On a different note, as a colleague just said to me – “Your blog post on Hadfield was exactly like a lesson I taught where the students seemed to focus on a totally different topic than the one “presented”.” Have you ever taught one of those “lessons” where you started in one spot and ended in a totally different place?

It’s ok to create untethered learning environments – it’s ok to let the discussion go into uncharted waters.

In an open learning forum, I have no way to control the learners or the learning – I give up my “control” over my words, the moment I click accept on a blog post. Learning how to be vulnerable and accept “push backs” in an open forum is extremely difficult. I create an “untethered” experience.

The last blog post, comments, twitter chat and backchannel discussions have demonstrated that it is possible to have an open online dialogue in a safe and open learning environment – but it can be really hard as well.

I would not say that I have felt entirely safe in this open learning environment called the Internet.  I have had tweets taken out of context with storify’s created out of them, I have had openly aggressive people keep tweeting at me, I have had people encourage others to tweet about me because of some perception of what I have said, I have been trolled and I have had a variety  of blog post comments. That is part of what being an open learner is all about too – its open for everyone.

When I was at Educon I was asking the students about youtube because creating videos is such an important part of the way teens learn and “where” they are learning today. One girl told me a story about her first video  where she was singing a song she wrote. She was so proud of herself. I asked if I could see it, and she said no because she had to take it down because of all the hurtful comments. I asked her if that mattered to her, and she said, “no” – it wasn’t worth it.

The intimidation factor and comments keep her song, her voice,  out of the open.

Although some comments made on my blog were not inappropriate, they were hurtful and hard to hear for me – and they were in the open. I didn’t take them down though. I responded.

From the point of view of a woman, who has only recently come back to education after working part time and staying home with kids – it has been particularly difficult to be an open learner. I am not only learning how to be an open learner, but learning how to survive in the education profession today. As such, I have a mom’s perspective on what is happening in my kid’s schools – while living in a professional world. Those perspectives will come up in my blog, and I am proud of who I am as a mom and educator today. There is no one quite like me.

Just like there is no one quite like any of you. I have learned to encourage differences.

It was also suggested that I talk about my learners in my open forum and give them a voice.

My students didn’t feel ready to comment  about what they are up to – in an open forum. From my perspectives on being an open learner over the last week, I would agree with them.  Being an open learner takes some practice, perseverance and loads of guts. They have to feel safe and ready. The first steps have to be on their own terms.

Who am I learning with?  I am learning with some grade 7 and 8 First Nations learners who are piloting an  “immersive” (virtual) world program in Atlantis Remixed. They are starting with a unit about being proud of their cultural identity and not hiding it. With Kory, (a fellow teacher) we have all created a team teaching, computer mediated model to help first nation youth engage in authentic learning experiences.

I am so proud to learn with the teens and as they strive to develop their own cultural and digital identity. Their struggles and perseverance remind me how hard it is to learn something new. Their passion reminds me how important it is to keep trying.  Their smiles remind me of how important it is to have fun while you learn.

Their openness is expressed by the fact that they have let someone into their community and they are willing to learn with this person. Their trust in me is truly special. Think about it – I skype in and talk to them, they chat with me as if I am just another “head” in the classroom. It boggles my mind at the Jetsons like culture.

Getting back to whom I learn the most from: my 7 year old – who created lego videos at 5 on youtube and showed the world our house and me in the kitchen….We all have to work on our digital identities and knowing how much is “too much” to share in the open.

What is “open” and what it means to learn “in the open” is up to the individual learner. I can only help to encourage each person’s unique openness.

It’s been quite a week and I am thankful for all the learning.



Commander Chris Hadfield, Canadian Hero and Education Disruptor

Nothing is Impossible….

(If you can….READ the “comments below” the video in youtube )

I have spent the last year working at developing a program called the “Open Classroom”. I have been developing online projects that offer free content to students from anywhere in the world based on flexible access to different digital devices (computers and mobile devices). These projects can be used in online courses (virtual schools) and regular f2f classes (Blended learning). The goal was to create learning opportunities open to all students with no barriers.

Most of the feedback that I have received revolves around my inability to communicate my ideas:  “Verena. You are speaking a different language. I have no idea what you are talking about.”

This year, I have often felt like an alien on another planet trying to communicate with other people. I have been labelled a stranded evangelist, a teacher entrepreneur and I am often told that I think outside the box. My job description is, Learning Innovation Lead Teacher, which I assume means I am innovative.

Then – it happened….I was able to connect to the International Space Station.

I now have proof that others “can” speak my language.

Commander Hadfield is part of my PLN (Personal Learning Network).  He is part of my world. I follow him on Google and on twitter,  I retweet his pictures and I was on of 8398 people in his Google Hangout from the International Space Station:


According to his son Evan Hadfield,““I think that it would be fantastic when Dad came back to Canada people would stop and say I recognize him, I’m proud of him…and thanks him for whatever; to really understand who he is and what he has done for the country when he comes back. Then I would feel we’ve done a good job.”

Yes! He did a GREAT job! In three months I believe he has been able to disrupt education only in the way Sir Ken Robinson has been able to do.

Yes! I am comparing an astronaut to an educator! In fact, I believe Commander Hadfield has taken educational theory and proven that learning happens everywhere – and always has. Sir Robinson encourages the world to break down traditional classroom walls to learn by seeking our passion through creative and meaningful ways. Commander Hadfield modeled “how” to be creative and learn with others because of his passion.

The Top 7 Things that I have Learned from Commander Hadfield:

1. People need to feel connected.

Commander Hadfield connected and engaged the world through his tweets and that it is incredibly important to build relationships in online environments. He assured the world that being human is possible, and relevant, in a technology driven society.

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2. We can all learn together as equals in a digital community.

It doesn’t matter what your “title” is, how “old” you are or where you are from – you need to be a part of a community.

Commander Hadfield answered questions   from students:


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AND he connected with movie stars and politicians as well!


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3. Your digital identity is essential in 2013.
“ With his high-flying past, Hadfield would be forgiven for having a gruff, no-nonsense exterior, and yet the Hadfield we have come to know couldn’t be further removed from this archetype. ” Retrieved from HERE

It is up to every person to consider how you want people to “see” you online. That includes what content you choose to share and how you choose to interact with others.

For example, the National Post created a possible diary based on Commander Hadfield’s experiences over a week, click HERE. (As a teacher I LOVE this example – just think of the possible spin-offs.)

He decided to host a question and answer session in Reddit from “his” point of view:


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4. DIY (Do It Yourself) and self directed learning is essential.

In order to create a network of learners, we have to figure out some things for ourselves. Using videos and “how to” guides give learners the time to learn at their own pace and in their own way.
How do you Brush Your teeth in Space?

5. “Rich” valuable free content can be found on the internet.
Most of the content that was “created” in space – was sent out through youtube, twitter and other social media content sources. This gives learners an opportunity to have equal access to all digital content. Equal access is a first step to breaking the digital divide and an example of an Open Educational Resource (OER).

6. Making connections to “authentic” social media and technology is instrumental in order to learn in 2013.

Harlem Shake:
Earth Version:

Space Version

Hadfield Version:

7. You need to be curious to keep learning.

You don’t have to be a tech geek or interested in space to connect and learn with Commander Hadfield. You have to be curious.
My primary school daughter came home from school and asked me for that “song” about the ISS. She wanted the lyrics. Her class was going to learn how to sing it. I found the lyrics and video on youtube and then told her that Commander Hadfield was still in space and that he had written it and sung with some “earthlings”. Then she started to follow his adventures….It’s all about baby steps, making connections with every person in their own way. One step at a time. Making learning relevant.

But why Commander Hadfield  the biggest disruption to hit education – even bigger than MOOCs? (Yes @Audreywatters I am prophesying that Commander Hadfield is a bigger disruption to k to 12 education than anything else on May 15, 2013)

He showed the world that he is passionate about who is is and what he does. He advocated for creativity – by being creative. He is able to integrate a wide variety of interests, skills and ideas – into a common platform. He pointed out that science is not just about a process- it is about the journey. Most importantly he proved that being yourself and connecting with others can lead to change. Oh – and he asked his son to help him because he knew that you can’t do great things all by yourself 🙂

This ode to Commander Hadfield ends with my heartful thanks to a new Canadian Hero who has changed my world.

Thank you for showing the world that anything is possible by being yourself. If we can have a Google hangout on the International Space Station and brush our teeth in space we can do it on earth as well!

By sharing his experiences with the world – he has proven himself to be a leader in education!

Here’s what Hadfield told CBC interviewer Jian Ghomeshi about why he’s so passionate about helping earthlings to understand his space journey:
“This is something not only personally amazing to be part of, but it is a new thing within the human experience. And it’s way too good of an experience to keep to myself. It’s something that I think is really important to share. Ever since my first space flight, 17 years ago, I’ve been trying to describe to people just how incredible it is to see our world this way, and what it means to us as a species to start leaving Earth. And now I have the time–this isn’t a shuttle assembly flight–this is living in space and so I have the time to try and share it with everyone. And so I’m doing everything I can to ensure that people really get a sense of what it means and what it’s like.”
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So I ask you all – how has Commander Chris Hadfield changed your reality? Is he promoting a disruption in education? Why or why not?