The Adaptable Scholar

Has technology encouraged a new approach to scholarship?

Madeline Brookes recommended Martin Weller‘s new(ish) book The Digital Scholar to me at the last #Learning2 in Asia.  Weller articulates the moment we are in: a time and place where education is needing to reassess what ‘scholarship’ means. I’m using this post to consolidate what were a few of the highlights from the book, but please do let me know what you’ve thought of it, or provide links to other resources which help explore the new nuances of our academic environment as influenced by a constantly changing toolkit.

  1. Transparency as a tool: “The term ‘open scholar’ has been used by some and can be seen as almost synonymous with digital scholar. The open scholar ‘is someone who makes their intellectual projects and processes digitally visible and who invites and encourages ongoing criticism of their work and secondary uses of any or all parts of it-at any stage of its development’ (Burton 2009).” (p51)
  2. Blog as learning and for learning: “The existence of his blog, though allows Hirst to engage in this ongoing experimentation, as it has an outlet, but it simultaneously encourages it also, since discussions will arise on the blog….Taken as a whole then, the blog itself represents the research process…” (p60)
  3. Understanding the characteristics of a healthy blogging community:

To paraphrase some the ideas on page 67:

  1. Regular contributions are expected by all scholars in the community
  2. Having an open door for feedback and gaining insight from afar can happen on a regular basis
  3. The opportunity to learn in a research-rich environment, as bloggers promote and thrive on research


 So what?

Weller reminds us to see our ability to adapt as our greatest strength.  He references the power of blogs and Twitter as a means to connect with experts and thinkers outside of our day to day normal interactions.  The opportunities for better and broader collaboration are (and have been) here.  For the modern-day teacher, I think we have to ask whether or not we are modeling ‘scholarship’ in the frame in which it currently sits…and are we doing enough to encourage the would-be-scholars on our campus?


Look What PD Made You Do

Networked flickr photo by nrg_crisis shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Why invest time in portfolios?

As we continue to explore portfolios/reflection as a part of our strategic plan this year, we are bound to come back to the question above again and again.  A healthy, meaningful network of portfolios relies heavily on time–the most coveted of teacher-resources.  The philosophy behind our portfolios is here, and yes, it is aspirational.  So let’s unpack some of the cousin-questions (and please feel free to leave more questions in the comment section below) provided by the English Dept:


1. How can I be persuaded to create and maintain my own blog?

I’d suggest signing up for our teacher portfolio challenge and experiencing the tool first hand.  What have other educators said about the process? Here’s what Madeleine Brookes has to say:

For a longer read, check out Dean Shareski‘s thoughts:

“I’ve yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it’s been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement. I’ve no “data” to prove this but I’m willing to bet my golf clubs that teachers who blog are our best teachers. If you look at the promise of Professional Learning Communities that our schools have invested thousands, more likely millions to achieve, blogs accomplish much of the same things. The basic idea of the PLC is to have teachers share practice/data and work in teams to make improvements. A good blog does this and more.” (full text here)

2. I’d like to know a little more about how others might use the portfolios in inventive ways

 My long answer is this list of 44 different ways schools around the world are using it as a tool to connect.  Ceci-Gomez has been leading students at her school through the ‘This I believe’ challenge for the past few years at SIS.  Students create a podcast as a response, and the school hosts ‘The big deal,’ a day where they spend the morning listening to the submissions and leaving comments. A portfolio is also useful for the student to be able to bring all their learning together at the end of a unit, here’s an example of just that.

3. How can we best encourage authentic reflection, rather than just ‘talking the talk’; how can we best use portfolios to extend rather than just record learning; how can we maximise student buy-in?

Choice. If we want portfolios to be a reflection of our students as learners, we need our learners to have the means to shape those portfolios.  If I want students to reflect on some aspect of our learning through the portfolio I’ll provide a choice of prompt, a choice of ways to reflect, and I’ll offer my own reflection as a mentor text.  If we want students to engage with reflection, it helps if they see us model why and how it is significant.  Reflection has a bad wrap, and it is important to recognize where that rep comes from.  For too long, schools have required students to reflect…and then have done nothing with those thoughts.  The portfolio becomes a time-traveling machine where students can return to prior posts.  One prompt I’ve had success with is asking which of these ‘future ready skills,’ the student feels were most accessible during a given task/unit.  Their response doesn’t need to be lengthy–but I do ask them to provide examples which illustrate their response.

Buy in comes with an audience.  Once you’ve walked your class through the ‘campfire cycle,’ and initiated a protocal of commenting and responding, the students are no longer writing for just one person–but rather for their peers. Kim Cofino speaks to this better than I am, so check out her thoughts on The Power of Audience.

4. How do I access class portfolios or set it up as a class?

I think the #uwclearn teacher portfolio challenge models this.

Step one: provide the prompts (allow for time)

Step two: bundle the posts

Step three: provide time for commenting

5. Are students ready to go/know what to do if we ask them to do something in their portfolio? What’s the language we use for asking them that, make an entry etc?

Students will have a range of experience with the portfolios depending on the teachers they have, and the amount of experimentation happening in those classes.  They do have access to this list of ‘basic bootcamp for WordPress’ and may need to return back to it.  You are also welcome to invite me into the classroom.  Our school is a diverse place, and students are accustomed to diversity in instruction.

5. How can I use it positively in combination with the platform and structures that are already in place?

I think of Teamie as the auditorium—here’s where I go to see the show.  The rehearsals, the hardwork, the direction and choreography takes place via our Google Apps, WordPress, and post-it notes.  The portfolio is the sandbox for the student’s thinking, and your OLP class is the space for the entire class.  Just as this post I’m composing here is a representation of my own thinking on the topic, I’ll be sharing it via the English dept workspace on Teamie.  Could I just have written all of this on Teamie? Yes, sure I could have–but I want to take my learning with me, and this post is one of many–and I know my own thinking about portfolios will change and evolve, in coming years I may wish to go back to this post.  I also may want to share this post not only with the English team, but with another department.
The biggest structural shift here is likely to be the benefit the student sees.  The portfolios ask them to curate their learning, to develop an archive of thought, to map out connections.  In the words of a former colleague, who I believe would even consider refering to himself as a converted blogger, it opens things up:
“The process of learning is social. We understand this implicitly when we take on the roles of teacher and student and believe that by putting people in a room together, learning can happen. And blogging, more so than, say, writing in a notebook, opens up our learning so that it is easily accessed by peers anywhere with an internet connection: it gives you an expanded, flexible, networked learning environment. ” (full text here)

Blogger’s Block: A quick remedy

generator.x show flickr photo by jared shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

What can nine post-it notes do for your next post?

I think of this space as a sandbox for thinking. Blogs can be a place to curate questions, ruminate, ideate and more. Seth Godin’s blog is one of the best-known examples of blogging for clarity. But sometimes an analog pre-blogging protocol is needed.  Here’s one you may want to try:

Step one: Get nine post-it notes ready

Step two: Have a quick look at Sunni Brown’s ‘Curriculum for a Future Mind’

Step three: Answer each row of questions on this planner. Give yourself three post-it notes for each cycle of questioning:


Row one: Who are the stakeholders involved in this issue? Your potential audience for this might be? When unpacking this issue, which perspectives are of value?

Row two: Go back to the Sunni Brown work and consider potential links with your thinking. OR take a look at this list of future-ready skills and consider the commonalities.

Row three: Which tools need to make their way into your toolkit for you to continue considering this issue? Who might be potential consultants and what would you want to ask them?

Roads At Night: Left, Left, Right flickr photo by Cayusa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

And then?

You can either:

  1. video/audio record yourself explaining and exploring your post it notes
  2.  try to boil your thinking down to five key bullet points
  3. find three key images which underscore the essence of your thinking.
  4. write an open letter to potential stakeholders asking them relevant questions
  5. curate a list of current resources you have which are pivotal in unpacking this topic

…an online learning community is a manifestation of connectivism as knowledge is distributed throughout the community of people and devices. A blog would serve as a connectivist tool as it facilitates interaction between peer and social communities of learners, continuity of conversations and allows for anytime, anyplace, anywhere learning (Garcia et al., 2015). Other tenets of connectivism addressed through a blog include the ability to involve external experts, control of the environment by the learner as they make and maintain their own connections, and the shift in the role of the teacher as students become accountable to one another (Garcia, Brown, & Elbeltagi, 2012).


Intentional Introversion

quiet flickr photo by hoodoo youdo shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

A little Quiet is quintessential for schools

Schools are remarkably social places. Conversations are the lifeblood of a healthy campus, and each of us has a role to play in shaping them. In order to mold healthy dialogue, we need to juggle the ever-shifting soundcape of an educator’s week.

There’s a lot of noise involved in a teacher’s day: the soundscape of learning, the hum of remembering what needs remembering, and the cacophony of ideas attempting to come to fruition.

George Couros writes extensively about school culture, and in a recent post he shared this:

I have seen amazing schools with terrible mission statements, but I have seen incredibly forward-thinking mission statements that don’t make a difference.  Valuing our people doesn’t mean we don’t push them; it actually means that we do.  We help them become the best version of themselves, but we start with their strengths, not their weaknesses.

How do we start to build on the collective strengths of our staff, whilst finding balance and harmony as we score the sound of our school community?

Integrate Intentional Introversion.

The operative term there is ‘intentional.’ We never want to send a colleauge off into a ‘silo mentality,’ but we also want to make sure that we respect the need for independent inquiry.  One of the very best ways I’ve found going about that is by doing what I’m doing right now: working on my learning portfolio (aka blogging).

The reason I’ve found this quiet space so useful is that I know I’ll come back to it again, and I’ll also (when ready) be able to share it with others (when needed) to continue to curate conversations I have with my PLN (more on that here).

Integrate Intentional Introversion.

If we value reflection for our students, we need to value it for ourselves.  To integrate that quiet reflection into our practice, we need time and we need one another.  What if we used 30 minutes of one meeting per month to reflect and share? What if PD days created space for teachers to independently make connections between the learning and their practice? What if your PLP goals were blogged about and shared with other practitioners?

Integrate Intentional Introversion.

Some of us may find quiet in the small rituals of our day.  I’m thinking specifically of the way John Rinker describes his morning coffee ritual in this talk:

What if a cycle of quiet reflection and the curation of critical thinking were a ritual of your school?

If that cycle already exists at your school, the better question is: how can you archive it? How can you maximize the benefits of reflection?

When I come across portfolios by educators like Kim Cofino or Edna Sackson, (here and here) I’m reminded that all educators are teachers of thinking.  Perhaps that sounds overly simplistic, let me put it another way: we are all responsible for teaching approaches to question construction, responsible for teaching argument-articulation, responsible for inspiring inquiry, and committed to mentoring problem-solvers.

My blog is my space to do the mental stretching required of those aforementioned aspirations.  This is the place I can go to make connections I’ll need to return to.  This has also been my Staffroom 2.0. I’ve received a considerable amount of help and support in this space from other educators.

Silvia Tolisano makes this visible in her post about ‘blogging for learning,’ here. I love a term she uses there: learnflow. It has me wondering, do we do enough to share best practice techniques for our teacher ‘learnflows’? What’s yours?

Damien is currently spinning BBS. flickr photo by : Damien shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license


Featured Image:

“” flickr photo by kryshen shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license


Portfolios for Geographers: Mapping out the Mindset


What is the potential for portfolios in a geographer’s world?

Let’s look at samples of Geographers preserving, curating and collecting insight in their virtual worlds:

1. Jeremy Crampton   University of Kentucky Prof in Geography Dept. Originally from the other UK.

“Open Geography”

2. Dominique Moran Reader in Carceral Geography, University of Birmingham

“Carceral Geography”

3. Mark Purcell Political theorist, urbanist, democrat, communist, anarchist, libertarian, and geographer.

“Path to the Possible”

How could we provoke geographers to curate their first post?

Made with Padlet

Which styles of posts work best?

do we need to be one another’s audience?

If we believe that learning happens best in connected communities, we need to be intentional about building bridges in our virtual spaces.  Commenting takes practice.  Here’s the advice I usually give my students:

If your comments are meant to help with the structure of posts, use this as a way to organize your comment:

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 2.39.27 PM

If your comments are meant to help with the critical thinking behind the post, use these prompts to fuel your comments:

Thinking Moves for Blog commenting – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

All comments should follow the guidelines you set up.  These are mine, feel free to borrow/adapt.

What are the most important lines of inquiry we need to continue to pursue and preserve?


WHAT happens when we create content for a broader community?

Made with Padlet

Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr and

Richard Allaway“Coastal Landform – Sea Cave. Pembroke, South Wales, UK”