Dec 062010

I’m not sure why I’m writing this.

Let me clarify.

After my unintended hiatus, I kind of got into a routine of blogging every Sunday — similar, I discovered, to how Kim Cofino blogs regularly. And I was happy to be writing again.

But now, here I am at 1:17am (okay, 2:30 after editing) and completely burnt out. I’ve stayed away from Twitter nearly all day (unusual for me as of late). The past 5 weeks, I’ve spent an average of 9 hours/day at the library. My wrists and elbows are sore, my back aches, and my brain feels like mush. But I must go on. I have no choice.

My thesis presentation is on Friday. The final document is due on Wednesday, December 15. I’m stressed and bogged down. I am not where I thought I would be at this moment, despite meticulous planning and organizing, and mountains of work already done. I’m insecure about my entire thesis project and fearful that once I present, people’s reactions will be, “That’s it? You’ve spent the last 4 months on this? Really?” I am afraid that what I have to show will not be representative of what I’m capable of doing. And this saddens me. I hate that this fear lurks inside me.

Here’s what I want my thesis (and its presentation) to demonstrate:

  • that I can apply learning theory and research to the design of a digital space intended for learning
  • that I can design a digital space intended for learning
  • that I know what tools and features support the creation of a community in a learning space
  • that theory and practice need a bridge
  • that designing learning spaces isn’t easy
  • that formal learning environments can still have a community element
  • that teachers need a community of practice to learn, thrive, and grow
  • that the teaching profession is dependent upon communities of practice if it is to develop and evolve
  • that the IB wants teachers to learn and grow together in a supported environment
  • that I don’t have all the answers, but dangit I have a few really good ones

And here is what I fear that my thesis (and its presentation) will actually show/say/demonstrate:

  • Dude, that’s one sad-looking website.
  • Is that all? You mean there’s no more?
  • Wait, don’t all websites have social elements these days? You did how much research to figure that out? Man, I coulda told you that in 10 minutes looking at one page of that “learning environment.”
  • Huh, what’s the theory again? and why is it relevant? Theory schmeary.
  • That doesn’t look like a place where any learning will happen.
  • This would be cooler if she designed something totally new.
  • That Adrienne doesn’t know how to design anything — she went to grad school for this?
  • Wow, the IB sure has strict professional development guidelines.
  • I don’t get it.

Put your money down, folks. Which side will win this battle — Thesis wants or Thesis fears?

So why am I laying it all out here in the open? I guess to make it real. That’s part of it. Another part of it, I think is to document what I’m thinking and feeling, so that I can look back on this and remind myself that sometimes insecurities make us stronger (at least I’m hoping that in the end of this I come out stronger!). I guess I’m also sharing with you in the hopes that you’ll give me some feedback, push me along, tell me what I’m doing is worthwhile, etc. — yeah, so maybe I’m fishing for a bit of an ego boost. That’s what happens when we get insecure, isn’t it?

I’ve been giving myself a pep talk the last couple of hours but it isn’t working so well. I think being sleep-deprived isn’t helping my mood. Sava‘s been trying to puff me up a bit too — her feedback has been tremendously helpful and I’m infinitely grateful. But she is also in the midst of designing her own projects, and I know she is stressed and tired, too.

It’s finals week for everyone.

Whose idea was it for me finish my thesis project in the weeks leading up to Christmas, anyway? That person needs her head checked. She’s obviously never before done a thesis project involving research and design.

What was she thinking?

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Nov 292010

I’ve been putting off this blog post for a while. Not because I have wanted to avoid this blog; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I miss blogging here immensely. But I’ve been putting off this post because I knew it was going to be big — epic, really. Or so I thought.

You see, I didn’t even post ONCE in the entire time from January 1st, 2010 until now.* That’s nearly 11 months, and marks my longest absence from blogging ever. I’m saddened by that, and embarrassed even, particularly because I do consider myself to be A Writer Of Some Kind. You’re possibly wondering why the absence. It’s nothing earth-shattering, really: I just had a really rough Spring semester. I mean, the Fall 2009 semester was rough too because of the whole lifestyle adjustment thing, but Spring semester felt like a steamroller compared to Fall semester’s mountain climbing expedition.

Yeah, so this is my (very late) reflection post. And I hate that I’m reflecting on something that A) happened a while ago now, and B) was such a big chunk of time. I usually prefer the as-it-happens, contextual kind of feedback, the kind that’s most aligned with my educational philosophy (y’know, formative assessment and all). But here we are with all this time since my last post. I guess I have some answering to do.

If you know me personally or follow me on Twitter, you might be saying to yourself, “Huh? But your Spring semester ended months ago! What gives?” And you’d be totally justified in saying that. See, the semester was such a doozy (that’s for you, Clint) that I needed some serious steeping time to get back to my “regular” life (whatever that is) and let things sink in. So, first, I give you…

Why this semester was a doozy

  • I can sum it up like this: I was much busier than during my Fall 2009 semester, but felt that I learned less. The reasons for this are complex. Some are evident below.
  • One of my courses in particular had me playing the role of project manager rather than grad student. This was troublesome for me, not because I don’t like project management (truth be told, I think I’m pretty good at it, as I’m a big-picture kind of thinker), but because it ate up time that I should have been devoting to research and processing. It also put me in a difficult predicament with my classmates, because I was not an authority but needed to behave as one in order to get the final project done. Color me uncomfortable. It didn’t take long for the project to turn into a game of politics and that left me even more uncomfortable. In the end, all worked out fine, but it was not the route I had in mind when I signed up for the course.
  • Another course had me annotating articles like my life depended on it. Every. Article. Posted. And. Then. Some. This amounted to approximately 150+ pages of reading and 2,000 words of writing per week (just for 1 course!). Annotations for this particular prof required regurgitated information (think: low levels of Bloom’s taxonomy) rather than any processing or reflection, which meant I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to consider just what the heck I was actually learning, anyway. It was a LOT of busywork. My annotations amounted to a 50-page document, which I actually had to turn in at the end of the semester. I mean c’mon — does my prof actually read those? (And hey, if you’re reading this, Dr. You-know-who-you-are, I’d actually really like to know if you DO read them. Really).
    • Let me publicly state here — not that it will be a surprise — that I see little value in this kind of work. I successfully summarized between 56-60 articles over a 14 week period, but what did I learn from them? That’s hard to say, because I did not have time to process any of the content that I was so busily transcribing into notes. Had I had the chance to choose one or two of the 4 weekly articles and spend time thoughtfully annotating them and — even more importantly — reflecting on how they apply to my experience and previous knowledge, I suspect I would be sitting here now telling you more about what I actually learned in that course, and how this new knowledge became synthesized with my previous understanding — or at the very least, how it challenged my understanding. But, sadly, that’s not the case, and though nearly 6 months have passed since that course finished, I still sit here and am not sure how to make sense of it all. That tea needs more time to steep, which is a shame, really, because I suspect it would have been much more of a healthy tonic for me to drink while I was actually in school rather than somewhat removed from it.
    • Note: I must be clear here: I highly respect the professors of both courses mentioned so far. They are well known, prominent, and prolific researchers in their fields and regardless of my criticism, I learned from them (rather than the coursework) deeply. As an experienced educator well-versed in teaching and learning sciences, I have difficulty stomaching some aspects of their styles, but this is fine. Any experience helps me learn — I take what I can from it and accept responsibility in my learning. I offer my criticism here as a reason for why this semester felt like busywork rather than learning. And, lest you think I’m just ranting — as both a professional and a mature student, I’m quite comfortable discussing anything I’ve said here with any of my professors in person, and I did indicate my honest thoughts on the end-of-semester evaluation forms.
  • My aunt passed away. This happened while I was on Spring Break in sunny (yes, really) San Francisco. While my aunt had been sick for many years, I learned that despite how prepared a family thinks they are for the loss of a loved one, they really cannot start grieving until the day of death. It was a very, very sad week for my immediate and extended family, and I missed a full week of school between flight changes, funeral arrangements, and an emergency passport renewal. Stress all around, not to mention the mountains of catchup work required for me when I finally did return. It took me about 4 weeks to finally get back on top of things — just in time for the stress of finals to begin.
  • Finals. This semester I worked on some really amazing projects, some which took me way outside my comfort zone and into areas of research and design I’d not even thought of before. This was good, of course, as I felt really stretched in terms of my skills and knowledge. However, because the learning curve was so steep for me, these projects required considerable brain power, research, and outside-of-the-box thinking. The projects included:
    • a mobile application to teach basic Math skills to elementary-aged children in Bangladesh,
    • a community development program for digital mobile storytelling in Suriname,
    • a combined physical and virtual learning space for future NYU ECT students, and
    • a re-design of a musical instruments exhibit at the Met (which currently is quite boooooring but with our redesign would be quite fantastically awesome and fun).
  • Before finals, I also worked on several smaller projects involving:
  • My parents visited — during finals. Not that having your parents visit is a bad thing — actually, in my case, I usually love it when my parents visit. But it was just bad timing this particular instance. During finals = ugh. So yeah, there was some stress this time ’round.
  • Personal relationships. Without going into too many revealing (and unnecessary) details on this — a professional — blog, I will simply say that some close relationships in my life changed rather dramatically in the 6 months from January to June 2010. It is too soon to tell whether all of these changes are for better or for worse. At this point, I can simply say that the relationships are evolving, and it has caused a significant amount of stress, as these kinds of things do. Nothing to be done about it; this is just the way life is, and I am grateful for having these relationships to teach me about the world and about myself.

That’s just a brief rundown of all I dealt with in my Spring 2010 semester. I haven’t even gotten into the summer yet. Wow. Or this semester, a.k.a. ThesisLand.

I hope that my next post will begin with…

What I actually learned

… in those 4 months of that Spring semester. But who knows. Things have become somewhat unpredictable lately!**

*well, not really now. As you can see I’ve already posted thrice. But this post has been in the works the longest.

**were they ever really predictable?

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Dec 312009

?a dark or sweet yeaR by 27147
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It’s not in my normal way of doing things, to review the year and sum up all I’ve done professionally, in a public manner. Nor do I usually follow The Rules of blogging and prepare a standard “looking back” post at the end of the calendar year. I’ve never done it before and really was not going to do it this time.




2009 was not an easy year for me — one of the most difficult on record, actually — and sometimes it is the pain that helps you realize just where you are and where you might be going. Pain can be a powerful motivator.
Not that I am really motivated by pain to write this — it’s more accurate to say that the pain has allowed me to see more clearly. And so I felt it appropriate to do some public reflection, as a way of documenting this small but significant moment of clarity. We’ll see how it goes…

I began 2009 hoping for a fresh start from a tumultuous end to 2008. While 2008 was not a terrible year, it ended with much uncertainty and emotion — I had resigned my position at UNIS, but not yet submitted applications to grad schools, and had no idea if I would get in. I knew big changes were ahead, and was scared to death about what they would be. On this blog, that fresh start to 2009 meant a post about my visit to Green School in Bali, Indonesia. That post came about as I finished up my time in Ubud at an incredible yoga and meditation retreat with two of my favorite teachers (read more about Twee and Rebecca if you are interested). It was a magical time, refreshing, energetic, full of learning and personal awakenings. And my visit to Green School woke me up also to some of the realities of the dream of providing an ideal school. I only wish I could return to Green School in January 2010 to see how far it’s come since my last visit. Alas, that will have to wait.

The early part of 2009 was full of more reflection for me on some areas vital in being a good teacher: assessment, understanding arguments, and the importance of communication. In my case, the latter was focused somewhat on communication via Twitter, the main point of access into my PLN for me. I participated in the Great Tweets challenge and found myself opening up to new conversations with new people about issues I really cared about.

During the next few months, many changes occurred: I was accepted into NYU and began planning for a massive move from Hanoi to New York; I attended EARCOS Teachers’ Conference in Borneo and began implementing some professional development changes at the school I was leaving; Jeff over at U Tech Tips graciously invited me to join the blogging team there.

I began thinking quite carefully about changes still to happen in education — the kinds of changes that I believe are long overdue. I was becoming a bit soured in this education game, most likely because I was looking ahead, knowing that I was leaving the teaching side of it for a while. For several months, I felt discouraged and wondered if I should just leave the teaching profession altogether, because dammit — this revolution was taking way too long.

I took a rather long hiatus over the summer — from June to September, in fact. I took one last big trip around Asia — a very memorable one. I visited Hoi An, Bali, and Thailand on my own, visiting friends along the way but spending a lot of time alone. I was fearful of the changes ahead of me, as I tried not to allow that fear to overcome me. I distinctly remember a conversation with Gaby in Bali about The Next Chapter. I listened intently as Gaby coached me over coffee about the importance of writing the words on the blank pages ahead. I knew she was right, but knowing it and being ready for it are two different things.  The summer was difficult.  Leaving Hanoi was painful. Being in “no man’s land” without a home for 2 months was also difficult.  I was in transition, waiting for visa papers, one of my cats died, and I was in the process of moving my 3 bedroom house into a 250 sq foot apartment in Lower Manhattan.

i sprung forward way too fast by squacco
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Once in NYC, I also was struggling with the changes that come with going from having had a rather decent salary for the past 11 years, to now having no income and watching my bank account dwindle. That, ladies and gentleman, was one of the most difficult challenges for me in 2009. Not to mention the complete lifestyle change that accompanies it — and being a student again, to boot. Suddenly I had all this time on my hands, most of it unstructured, and had to read, annotate, highlight, submit, write, align, research, diagram, create, and present things I had never done before. This semester kicked my butt a little bit — and perhaps it needed some kicking. I can say now, though, that I’m quite proud of the progress I’ve made in my first semester as an M.A. student, and I am eagerly awaiting the next semester’s challenges. In the past 4 months I have learned an incredible amount about designing for education, using technology. In fact, I will write a separate post about my learning in that domain because there is so much for me to process and debrief on before the next semester begins that I think it warrants something distinct, and should not simply be lumped in with everything else in this post.

But while we’re on the topic of learning, here are the top 10 things I learned in 2009, in no particular order. Note that I am keeping this on a professional / academic level; my personal lessons will appear elsewhere, likely on my Posterous blog.

  1. Keynote is one damn fine piece of presentation and creation software.
  2. It is possible to teach yourself an application in a short period of time, and be functional with it, if you are a quick and dedicated self-learner.
  3. Change within educational organizations is slow, and my experience has taught me that this is because admin, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders are often skeptical, sometimes uncomfortable, and occasionally lazy. Find ways for the skeptics to remain, for the uncomfortable to be comfortable, and for the lazy to leave, and you have a recipe for a potentially innovative environment.
  4. My students have been — and I hope they will continue to be — the best teachers. Ever. They are real, down-to-earth, and much better at communicating than many adults I know.
  5. Assessment and Evaluation at the tertiary level still has a very long way to go to becoming fair, accurate, transparent, and equitable. I realize it does in many secondary and primary educational institutions as well, but I was rather shocked at how archaic it still is at university level, particularly in the Faculty of Education at a prestigious private college!
  6. All the best intentions in the world still do not create the ideal school. So many factors are necessary to good school design. I’ve learned this from observation, experience, and my attempts to Be The Change. I’ve not completely given up — no way — but I do feel now after 11 years in 6 different schools (and having worked with many colleagues from countless other schools) much more confident in my understanding of all the ingredients necessary to Create The Change.
  7. Good design is crucial to any one “thing” ‘s success — from a Starbucks travel mug to a school district, from software to salary structures. Design is a concept I think I previously underestimated. I now feel like it is an important and often overlooked aspect of education at all levels and layers.
  8. Technology can be a catalyst, but not the reason, for change in education. The world is the reason.
  9. Education in the USA is a political monster. In fact, most things in the USA are political monsters, and my still-evolving belief is that politics are a major factor impeding growth in social and humanitarian causes in the USA. This is also something I greatly underestimated before living here — and my parents have lived in the USA for a long time, so I thought I understood the issues. My current point of view is that until Americans are ready to put politics aside, real and genuine progress in the areas of education, health, immigration, and many many other areas will never happen.
  10. One of the best ways a person can learn about him or herself is to travel. Yep, it’s true. I always suspected this, and therefore my lifestyle reflected it, but now, having not traveled so much recently, I can certainly say it’s changed how I learn. Visiting other cultures, learning other languages, dealing with things outside of one’s comfort zone is the best education one can have. I can confidently say that nothing else is so mind-opening. I would like to see K-12 education acknowledge and integrate this philosophy somehow in a widespread manner. Dreaming? Perhaps. Worthwhile? Absolutely.
  11. (OK, so there are more than 10!) I miss teaching. I really, truly miss it. So I guess I won’t be leaving it altogether, because I have really missed those interactions with young people on a daily basis. In many ways, I feel as though teaching is something I am meant to be doing — it almost feels like a calling.

And I think that’s all I need to say for now. Oh — but no. There is one more important thing as I wrap up this post and this year:


My growth has not been in isolation. So many of you in my PLN have contributed to my learning, and I am so lucky to have found you all. For this, I am full of gratitude. My cup runneth over.

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 31 December, 2009  Posted by at 8:39 pm Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »