Google: "Gardner, you (almost) autocomplete me"

Google: “Gardner, you (almost) autocomplete me”

If you’ve ever been in the audience for a Gardner Campbell conference presentation/keynote. you know the “more than a slide deck” kind of feeling there. I’ve been there. I like to call him the “Poet Laurete of Ed Tech” (though the ‘tech’ part seems limiting). But, if like me, you’ve been fortunate to be in his classroom/seminar, it’s more than turned up past 11, it’s a knew knob, an entire new frequency range on the equalizer. It’s not someone transferring content, it’s an experience you are part of with him, that you are shaping.

What I always try to do, whenever I teach, is to arrange the class as a shared project. We’re making a movie together. We’re making a record together. We’re building a house together.

I think you are being there when a student says “I miss you”. As a teacher, wouldn’t you like that to be the mental association students carry? Or is it “Thanks for the grade/certificate/badge”?

And as much as I know its not easy for him to quantify the how, today he shines a light there.

And if you read his blog, as I did this morning reading “A student asked me a question”, it too has a resonance beyond the norm.

I think of this post as a sequel to “The Reverend Asked Me A Question.” It’s even more poignant for me, if that’s possible, because there’s a certain fresh and meta quality to the question of “how did you think about teaching our class when you were teaching our class?” when it’s asked by a sophomore just one year after the class, a sophomore who’s now trying to do something of the same thing in another schooling context.

This is more than me tossing some praise on a friend/colleague. I read this post in the sleepy fuzz of the morning glance at the phone on the bed, and, like many times, it generates in me that… that… I have to blog this.

But I had to muse on the title before I could write. More on that later.

His post shares an exchange with a previous student for a previous class at a previous institution, seeking his input. That says a lot right there. It’s timely for me as I prepare for the launch of my next online class next week, and looking for the best way to communicate why we ask students to blog their class experience.

Over time, inert lists have come to be expected by many students, maybe even most students. They actually come to prefer it, very often. Inert lists make everything so much more manageable. Stuff in stacks. I didn’t want stuff in stacks. I wanted art or mystery or eureka or games or symphonies or laboratories or studios.

Stuff in stacks.

It seems many times, at the outset, when we ask students to set up a blog, or use one, the mindset is a place to put assignments. Kind of like a folder. Kind of like a drop box. Kind of like an LMS.

Follow Gardner’s associative trail back to 2008, to a response to a question from Jim Groom about the method of teaching:

In my mind, and in the way I talk about blogging, I distinguish between a requirement and an assignment. Blogging is required, but not assigned. My requirement is simple: blog x number of times a week, blog in relation to what we’re studying together, comment on another blog x number of times a week, blog and comment substantively

Assignments end of being the maximum bar students, or people in general will aim for. That’s as high as they need to jump. Or fly. Requirements are a minimum, and set an expectation for no limit to the height of travel. Or that the teacher is going to specify the height.

This is hard to do. I don’t have anything near a optimal way to express this from the start. In fact, even if I did,. it would not truly make sense until the students are doing it. Teaching and learning are acts of trust.

So for my students, blogging as a place to put the assignments is… just assignments.

And here is where I get to, for me, the importance of titles.

Typically when I get a germ of an idea to blog (like this morning), I wont even open up WordPress until I have a title in mind. This is just my way. Sometimes it comes right away, sometimes not at all. But even that internal process is like massaging an idea. or digesting it. I’d even say the most important blogging process is formulating it in your brain.

A good title is everything, to me. It’s a chance not to explain what you will say, but to entice, or invite, or play off of someone else’s message (the Jerry Maguire reference in my image caption, that was a contender for the title).

When Spielberg was creating his movie in the early 1970s, did he make a title of “Killer Shark Ravages Small Town and Torments Local Police Chief?” — sometimes the beauty of a title is what it leaves out, the opening it provides. “Jaws” – whose jaws? who is in them? interesting that this word can be more evocative than “shark”?

So that’s why I will give a lot of feedback early, and even small grade dings from students, when they post something titled “Assignment Five” or “Poster Design” or “Weekly Reflection”. Who would ever want to read something like that if they were not required to? When you rush making up titles, you are missing bag of golden opportunity to create the ambiance of the scene.

And the same goes even earlier for what a student will name their blog. How relevant, personally important is a blog title like “English 101 Blog” or “Mike’s Math Class Blog”? Those blogs are the equivalent of David Wiley’s Disposable Assignments.

My next class is a version of ds106 for grad certificate students an in Instructional Tech program, and they are all full time employees of a major consulting firm. I am working on the right frame for when they create the blog, to think of it less than a box full of papers. I’m working on possible metaphors, that will have them thinking from the start that it’s first, their place, and more than that, something that can be (though no expectations) something that extends beyond the duration of the class.

Because that was what I saw in that exchange between Gardner and his student. The class experience can be an assignment. Do enough to just reach the bar. Or it can be a minimum, with no height of achievement specified.

For many people who used to blog (ahem, not naming names), it seems like… well you know.

We/I use the word “reflection” often in what we ask students to do in a blog. I require weekly reflections in my class, both to summarize their work (assignments) but to expand on them as well. It can be hit/miss.

That word “reflection” is different in how we write in our digital space than looking in a mirror, where we see an exact copy of ourselves (excepting of course the RadioLab Mirror, Mirror story which changes everything about what you think you see in a mirror).

One way to use a class blog is like a stack. Here’s my assignment. Here’s my response to the questions about the essay. But it gets way more interesting when people start jumping to that meta level Gardner so well encourages in his teaching, where the assignments are a base for seeking relevance, or more questions. When you have a body of this to go back to, to pull out and reconfigure, to see where you’ve been wrong, right, mature, immature, is of such a value… but you won’t know until it happens. I can extoll the virtues from here till Cleveland, but it won’t click until you have your own turned up to 11 serendipity experience.

And people forget that you don;t get to that pace without being at it for a while. It’s what U have been thinking alot about since reading Ira Glass’s Manifesto, and hearing him talk, what comes through here

We have this idea of what is good- writing, music, poetry, painting, but it can take a long time, and a lot of iteration to get there. Not with an app. Or a listicle. Or a one try. Glass talks about working at doing radio for eight years and still finding “he sucked”. It’s not about just doing something over and over fo 10,000 hours. It’s reiterating and reflecting and retrying.

As it goes for blogging. You gotta be in it.

And that is what connects the threads of the Gardner Experience at a keynote, the Gardner Experience in the classroom, and the Gardner Experience in his blog– his presence comes across in all modes.

And… that is why I am excited to be part of the Summer 2014 Experience Gardner is planning with Tom Woodward and Jon Becker and the rest of the internet (see Tom’s summary) (more on this soon) (I’m getting to be part of the dream and the hack/building) (it will be awesome).

In teaching, speaking, being, he never says, here is the maximum (assignment) I want you to achieve– it’s always the minimum I want you to do (requirement).

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Much appreciated post, and the network of links chased me around the Interschmetz fir a while. The summer class looks like an argumentation class, which I teach a couple times a year. The first segment looks traditional–students choose, research, and write their paper. The second half is that they present the same argument using multi-media.

    That must be where the electricity is for you–but what’s going on that grabs your imagination in that?

    Or maybe I’m just a Tired Teecher heading into Finals Week with 48 arguments to read:sign me Not Excited About That.

    Enjoyed your Gardner and blogging reflections very much!
    Thank you.

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