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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Minding the P’s: the #BLC13 Experience

It’s been a few days since returning from my third (and probably most inspiring) year at November Learning’s Building Learning Communities Conference (aka BLC13) at the exquisite Boston Park Plaza Hotel, which- as @Braddo pointed out upon arrival, has graciously included a portrait of me.

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All joking aside, I was thrilled to have attended, albeit alone (but, with Twitter, is one ever really alone?). For me, BLC is the ultimate conference…not only is it pedagogy (versus technology) – driven, but it offers a a jaw-dropping calibre of speakers and presenters. My raison d’etre this year was to hear Dr. David Weinberger keynote – my I.B. Theory of Knowledge students read from his new book: Too Big To Know. My edufangirl dream came true when I discovered he was quite down to earth and, after hearing about the nature of my course, offered to Skype in or tweet with my students! I plan to definitely take him up on that.

So many thoughts and ideas have been creating their own little Starry Night-esque chaos in my brain that I’ve decided to break some of the main ones down in a series of categories (inspired, by the way, from Doug Belshaw’s “Things I Learned This Week”).

***All my tweets (Storified as notes) and tweets that mention me are here:



*to “hold ideas lightly” instead of tightly (@tombarrett): this is the most memorable quip (I’m a sucker for rhymes). Tom has a great point, that we need to be willing to share our ideas and accept some “feed forward” critique. Ideas will only grow if you sow…


*that the hashtag truly is the “Soul of the Internet”: @MyTakeOnIt and I had a wonderful convo about the power of hashtags. We discussed perhaps organizing an entire course around tagging. Students could post reflections of the lessons (or their self-created lessons) with obvious and meta-level (read- “ironic”) hashtags. It would be an Instagramification of the course, and I think would cement connections between disciplines and topics. I also liked @Braddo ‘s idea of having students create their own hashtag for their presentations so students can backchannel.

*“Dare to Make and Share”: ok, this is mine but I’m including it because there was a definite recurrence of the concept of “radical openness” or “radical transparency”, as well as an emphasis on maker culture (creation versus consumption). The latter is nothing new (@Braddo: “no one remembers the great accountants of the Roman Empire”), but I do think that the hesitance to share both student and teacher work to a global audience persists – and for some there is simply no choice – archaic laws and regulations at the district or school level prohibit and inhibit both access and the ability to share openly. Sharing at large makes the learning and the products of learning authentic. Students are already doing so in their private lives. What better way to help them cultivate a positive digital presence (I say “presence” in lieu of “footprint” because it is contemporaneous and future-minded), than to promote students’ work on a global scale? Keynoter Alec Couros (@courosa) reiterated that one important skill is Resilience – but we must practice this and the only way to do that is risk putting our stuff out there. When Alan November asked me to make an impromptu speech about my History for Music Lovers project, I didn’t want it to be about the process of making a music video parody, or how to use them in the classroom. Rather, I wanted to challenge the audience with this simple plea, that we consciously make an effort to create everyday (a la #ds106, if you will) and share freely. Beautiful things can happen with both. (for more about my dare to share philosophy, please check out my Cookies post…which also addresses copyright reform). Another recommendation is @cogdog ‘s “True Stories of Openness”.

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*We have truly emerged from the Gutenberg Parenthesis, and some very important people are realizing it. I have been a fan of this theory, which has notes of McLuhan and Ong, for a while – ever since seeing the great work of University of Buenos Aires professor Alejandro Piscitelli (@piscitelli). I think all the keynoters – particularly David Weinberger – and some presenters alluded to the concept in some way. The theory, out of the University of Southern Denmark states that 

“…the dominance in cultural production of the printed text, not least in the form of the book, is merely a historical phase, and one which is now coming to an end under the impact of digital technology and the Internet. It can appropriately be designated the ‘Gutenberg Parenthesis’, an image which usefully identifies…the intriguing compatibilities, despite the technological differences, between oral, ‘pre-parenthetical’ culture and digital, ‘post-parenthetical’…  “

Many speakers addressed this emergence from the “stagnant, complete” nature of printed text and emphasized the importance of “living documents”, as well as the changing media landscape and what it has done to our communication as a species. Also, remix culture – ’nuff said. For more links on the Gutenberg Parenthesis, please see my Storifying History website.


*that “rogue is the new vogue”: I made this image while in @dkuropatwa’s amazingly creative and hands-on iPad session. I’ve always tossed around the term “rogue” because I think it captures the essence of what I’ve had to do, and what I think all educators might have to do in order to find creative ways to make what they want to happen happen. Sometimes – more often than not- you have to circumvent obstacles (especially bureaucratic ones) and act now-ask/apologize later. I personally embrace complete open access, BYOD, breaking out of walled gardens, copyright reform, and remix culture, so I’m probably not the most conservative person you’ll meet on this issue. One big benefit I see from being “rogue” is that 1. you make stuff happen instead of just talking about it , and 2. you end up learning how to trouble-shoot effectively. If you’d like to read more about this attitude, please check out my “Digital Vikings” post.


*“Go where the kids are”: This year’s conference really seemed to push the integration of real world digital spaces (like Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, blogs, Vine, cell phones and Instagram), which, did I mention I LOVE! I think we do a disservice to students of we don’t embrace what they already have and do…as well as help them practice etiquette and safety. I’ve already used Twitter extensively as a backchannel but was very appreciative of @Braddo ‘s session on total Twitter immersion (his classroom-in-the-cloud “is” Twitter) and data analysis. This year I plan to experiment more with Instagram and Vine…not sure how yet but I’ve already played around with some social media storytelling and am determined to set up an Instagram hashtag for the course. This whole idea really goes along with the “New Literacies” work Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw) from Mozilla is doing.

*Culture of Reflection: I am pleased to see that reflection was just as important a strain as creation. Being at an IB school, reflection is a major part of our teaching and learning and is truly embedded into the curriculum. Kids can get VERY turned off by being forced to reflect, so it’s imperative to make it have a “low entry point” as @Braddo mentioned. One of the things most successful for me is to veer away from text-based reflections (unless they are microblogged in 140 characters) and toward visual or multi-media-type reflections, such as vlogs. Brad also mentioned using Philip’s HUE lights as sort of an emotional check-in – very intriguing! If you are interested in participating in my new creative, crowdsourced Vlogging project, please join VOXBOXED21 on G+ and YouTube.


*A new definition of IT or teacher: In his “Future Schools” session, @Braddo described the rapidly changing roles of the IT dept in particular. I asked him what the new job description would be, and he stressed that it should include “What are you going to make/create/bring to the table? What project are you going to develop?” I love this and wish all administrators asked this of their faculty. I think we should ask it of our students, too. Even if you don’t have “Genius Hour” built in to your schedule, why not make your entire course one big Google 20% fest – breaking it up in creative ways? Going to think on that…

*Design Thinking for Innovation: This was the main pre-conference I attended, with Tom Barrett of NoTosh. I got to work with some great people focusing on “improving communication” in the school community. I loved Tom’s analogies- particularly “the eagles will come” (those are the big, amazing ideas…and frankly that should be on a tee shirt), as well as looking at things with “a beginner’s eye”. One student and I are planning to create a student-run Communication Club that involves all sorts of journalistic activities….I think this process will serve us well. I also would love to try more “100 ideas in 10 minutes” with students (maybe on the first day?). It would be great to have stand-up bar tables, as I could really think better on my feet.


*iBooks as task scavenger hunt: great idea used in 2 sessions by @dkuropatwa….create a downloadable iBook full of creative tasks and questions so students can use their mobile devices and the lesson is inherently differentiated. Easy to come back to the table and share with the Reflection app.

*G+ as conference or PD session community: I was already sold on G+ communities as a great way to organize a class or PD session. I loved the way @tombarrett set up an “Event” in G+ for our pre-conference session and posted photos throughout our time with him. I’ve already started a community for my course and will look into events….

*Paper by 53 as best tool ever: I’ve long been a fan of @Braddo’s conference sketch notes and plan to incorporate more visual thinking in my own learning as well as in my course. I was thrilled when he offered an ad hoc session to help the budding #paperposse with techniques and tricks. Hopefully I can share what I’ve learned about the Paper53 app with my students and they can find a style of their own.

*Verso app: I love those Learnology Aussies who have now created @flipyrthinking and @VersoApp. Phil Stubbs (@BlueHatLearning) gave an excellent presentation on flipping the flip (or, in the pop culture, cheeky reference – “Fifty Shades of Flip”). He pointed out some of the issues/dilemmas and explained why they developed the Verso app to maximize the power of flip teaching and avoid the ineffectiveness. I can’t wait to try out the app and hope some day I can visit these edurockstars in OZ.

*Timed tweets while keynoting (@courosa): Just wanted to throw it out there that Alec Couros upped the ante for all presenters when he unleashed a series of timed tweets as he was keynoting!!!!!


*love having the first signed copy of @tombarrett ‘s lovely book- Can Computers Keep Secrets? It’s encouraged me to look for and even tease out the curiosity in my own daughter and students.

*loved connecting with new, old, and virtual friends – all of them very REAL

*loved sharing my story (especially how creativity can help one overcome a dark time) with all the attendees on the last day (thanks @globalearner)….but even more I loved exchanging private stories with some of the most interesting people on the planet, imo.

*loved cooking up plans with “vintage” and new-found friends. I really think BLC is sort of a salon…and when certain people get together creative and innovative things just spark! Looking forward to using some of those sparks to keep my flame going…

SUMMING UP: Here’s my Paper53 – composed summary of #BLC13


For the interactive conference tweets, see this:

#edtech #piscitelli #notosh #novemberlearning #cancomputershavesecrets #boston #philosophy #davidweinberger #creativity #ong #dkuropatwa #braddo #amplification #tombarrett #education #blc13 #McLuhan #courosa #gutenbergparenthesis #pedagogy #radicalopenness #cogdog #globalearner #digital #ds106 #remix #tweets #hashtags #toobigtoknow

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