Stephanie J. West-Puckett

writing, teaching, studying digital writing and rhetorics

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Twitter vs. Zombies: Pondering Humanity

steph zombifiedYesterday was Friday the 13th– the official start of Twitter vs. Zombies Part III. My buddy from the Making Learning Connected #clmooc, Kevin Hodgson, baited me on G+, and I signed up for what turned out to be a pretty quick slaughter.

In the morning, I lurked. There were lots of zombies already prowling, and the humans brave enough to mingle were quick with their #dodges and protective of their clan with #swipes. Most of the players I knew were already zombies, so I invited other Tweeps to play. Most ignored my pleas for a posse, but Writing Project friends Lacy and Jesse jumped in with a promise to stand by me– unless I was bitten.

I was all set with a human zombie-fighting crew, so I decided to go out for the night. My favorite Piedmont Blues musician Lightning Wells was playing a show nearby, and I thought, with my human protection, my iPhone, and a nail-encrusted baseball bat, I was ready for walkers. So little did I know.

My friends were excited and all a-twitter, calling me out in their posts. Kevin took a cheap shot, and I defended, but before I knew it, they were on Lacy. I was watching her dodge– so quick and nimble. The zombies were hungry, and I was following along frantically on my phone while Lightnin’ Wells wailed away on Little Sadie.

It was an hour or so before I knew. I woke up hungry, but I had a taste for brains, not grains. Before I knew it, I had invited Lacy and Jessie to the breakfast club for a #bite. In my #25wordstory I wrote, “Last night, they talked– amygadalas marinating in fear. While they slept, they didn’t know, I was nibbling their ears.” Action without thought. I felt myself becoming a walker and was welcomed by imagined kin.

“The family that hunts together stays together.” Karen had taken me in. It felt good to be with the powerful and the hungry.

Then the #ds106 ethos intervened and Mariana’s story (like stories do) made me think. Do I have a choice? Can I choose to feed or not to feed? But wait! Another realization. I can still think? Then I must have a brain, right? So what does it mean to know with a body? What does it mean to know with a brain? I’m losing a toe, but the old loaf, it seems, is still intact.

For now…


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Hanging Out (On Air), Messing Around, and Geeking Out

Being in the Hangout was an effortless way to connect.  It made the MOOC feel like a place where real people with real bodies and real voices could meet and connect.  They made me feel welcomed and supported– and that’s a critical part of collaborative inquiry and social learning.

Melissa Techman, School Librarian and CLMOOC Participant

One of the most exciting features of the Making Connected Learning Connected (#clmooc) experience has been the regular Google Hangouts On Air we’ve hosted during each Make Cycle.  As synchronous events broadcast live and archived on the NWP Make With Me blog page, these sessions provided an opportunity to share what we were working on during each week’s Make Cycle, invited participants into the larger conversation, and helped us dig deeper into the Connected Learning Principles that underpinned each week’s explosion of making and sharing.

A week or two before the Make Cycle began, lead facilitators would coordinate with the #clmooc team to choose an hour that would work across time zones and publicize the Hangout on Air in the weekly newsletter, on the G+ Community, and with the #clmooc hashtag on Twitter.  Depending on the theme of the conversation, facilitators would invite particular participants to join the hangout in advance and post the hangout link in the G+ Community for those who wanted to pop in last minute.

Unlike a Hangout generated from your G+ profile, hangouts you intend to broadcast and archive are generated from the Google Hangout on Air page.  After clicking the blue button, you are taken to a screen that asks you you to name your hangout, invite participants, and reminds you that your hangout will be streamed through both your YouTube and your G+ Account.  This means that anyone who has you in a G+ circle and anyone who subscribes to your YouTube channel can watch your hangout in real time.  To reach a wider audience, however, you can click on the embed link in the center screen, copy the embed code, and paste it in a public website as we did at the NWP Make with Me Blog page.  Once your hangout is done processing and you and your guests are ready to go live, you can click on the Start Broadcast Button.  For more on the technical aspects of hosting an On Air Hangout and using other social media tools, check out Joe Dillion’s fantastic guide.

screen shot hangout on air pageHangout Screenshot #2third screenshot of G+ hangout set up

embed and broadcast screenshot

During the broadcasts, viewers could watch live, converse in the chatroll–also available on the Make With Me page, and join the hangout to video chat with the group on air.  Just like regular hangouts, Hangouts On Air are limited to ten guests.  We decided ahead of time that if we had a good number of participants who wanted to join, one of the supporting facilitators would drop out to make space.  Often folks would join or drop out midstream, and facilitators pretty quickly learned the etiquette of pausing conversations to introduce new participants and bringing them up to speed if they weren’t already following along.

As you can imagine, Hangouts on Air can be frenetic.  With the multiple channels and modes of conversation that are happening simultaneously in the chatroll, backchannel conversations in Hangout chat, and the main frontchannel conversation being broadcast, we found it helpful to have facilitators take on different roles.  Typically, the lead facilitator would initiate the Hangout on Air and send the embed code to an NWP staff member who would plug that into the Make with Me Blog Page.  Lead facilitators would also host or invite other participants to host as we did in Week Five to start handing off responsibility and leadership opportunities to participants.   A supporting facilitator would monitor the chatroll and serve as a liaison, bringing questions and ideas from the chat to the Hangout.   We also tried to play with the insider/outsider perspective, a fishbowling of sorts, and had people in the chat who were deep into the week’s makes and Connected Learning principles along with an outsider who could prompt us to articulate and surface many of the threads we were picking up on from the Twitter chats and the Google + community.

In many ways, the On Air Hangouts, while procedurally formalized, provided space for informally hanging out, messing around, and geeking out, a practice that Mimi Ito describes as essential for building peer networks that drive learning.   And while hanging out “on air” was intimidating at first, over the course of the summer, I learned to be more comfortable showing up without a script, sharing ideas that are only half-baked, and using digital tools to facilitate conversation instead of delivering content.  This is the ethos of #clmooc, and Hangout on Air is one of the tools that helped us construct it.


Make. Share. Learn.

When NWP staff contacted me back in April to ask if I’d be interested in working to help create and facilitate the Making Learning Connected #clmooc, I blindly and enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity.  Over the last few weeks I collaborated in real time and in lag time with my fellow facilitators in calendars, hangouts, documents, dashboards, chats, and communities with NWP staff and #clmooc facilitators to make a vision and make a plan for this massively open online collaboration.

Y U No #clmooc meme

And still, two weeks into the #clmooc experience, I am finding myself simultaneously frustrated and amazed, fearful and confident, overwhelmed and invigorated– very similar to the way I felt in 2007 when I participated in Tar River Writing Project‘s inaugural summer institute. With such an amazingly capable and brilliant group of people thinking in such deep and sophisticated ways about learning and design, people who could have made this whole #clmooc thing completely perfect without me, I keep wondering about the ways I can contribute.  I keep asking, “Why am I here?”

Wednesday night, I felt all of these conflicting emotions most poignantly when I hit the “end broadcast” button on our Make With Me On Air Google Hangout for Make Cycle 2.  I had never hosted a live video conversation from my dining room, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  While #clmooc co-facilitator Terry Elliot regularly reminds us to “do one impossible thing every day”, I am much better at doing one impossibly stupid thing every day.  I just hoped it wouldn’t be on air.

By the way, if you didn’t join us live, you can watch it here.  Impossible or impossibly stupid? Don’t worry. No spoilers.

What I can tell you, though, is that our conversation helped me to see the connections between the practice of toy hacking and the possibilities inherent in Connected Learning— particularly the ways that making, sharing, and connecting across generations, across time, and across spaces can support learning and build healthier, more equitable communities.  I want to return to some of these ideas that we surfaced and string them out here in words and sentences, as that’s one way that I find I can hold onto and make sense of the beautiful chaos of semi-structured conversation.

For most of us, playing with toys is a shared childhood experience.  Toys, even the most basic kind we see in this wonderful TED talk shared by Michael Buist on the #clmooc G+ community, are accessible and tactile. Toys speak to our need for joy, our desire to play and our capacity to make believe.  As objects, they hold stories and possibilities, and as tools, they help us unlock our imaginations and identities.  As Sandra Cisneros writes in her short story “Eleven, ”  we are not just 28 or 38 or 58 or 78 years old, we are also 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and all the numbers between ten and your current age.  Toys help us make those connections, to connect our old selves with our new selves, and when we hack them, we learn to re-see, to re-design, to-remake ourselves and our world.

Through toy hacking, we can make worlds where ponies and dinosaurs engage in civil conversations about diversity and gender stereotypes.  We can make our favorite books spring to life as images and stories pop off the page and into our lives, shaping our beliefs, our values, and our actions, creating civic-minded fandoms like The Harry Potter Alliance and Bronies.   We can cover the world in chalkboard paint and rewrite the code of our existence, and we can live in a world where pigs fly and meaning crosses platforms and media from objects to memes and back again.

And as Chad Sansing reminded us while he furiously hacked an homage to Adventure Time, toys are a great place to start developing  a hacker identity and a maker-centered ethos.  Toys are made to be played with, and as kids, we quite naturally push their limits, break them, take them apart, and intervene in their workings to see what makes them tick.  If we can develop our capacity to tinker and hack in small, accessible low-stakes systems, like toys, and if we can develop our capacity to leverage the collective intelligence of our networks to solve problems like how to make Storm Trooper puppy drop its R2D2 bone, then we can grow into humans who can think through larger social, political, environmental, and governmental systems.  Through toy hacking, we can develop our individual and collective agency to change and build new systems that recognize every person’s need to contribute.

Wordfoto storm trooper toy hack

WordFoto by Ashley Hutchinson

Often in our conversations about school (system) reform, we hear words like “standards,” “rigor”, “college and career-readiness,” words that make a language that privileges rules over relationships.  Our conversation last night and the larger conversations about connected learning and the #clmooc have a much different texture.  The words we are using here– playing, sharing, experimenting, trying, listening, contributing, inspiring, loving, exciting, interesting, building, making, connecting, understanding– are more human, more humane.  And while I’m generally pretty slow to come to these things,  I think I’ve figured out a good and smart answer to that pervasive question about my role and purpose in the #clmooc community, that philosophical preoccupation that plagues our kind and makes us ask, “Why am I here?”

I am here to learn.