High school English teacher Scott Glass of Glenbrook South in the suburbs of Chicago had always been interested in art and creating, but didn’t do a lot of it himself until he started teaching a humanities class. A teacher for the past 19 years, he started getting interested in the possibilities of digital media for adding a creative jolt to his humanities classes. He was teaching about artists and asking his students to create, so it made sense for him to stretch himself as a creator. Glass started experimenting with the media that were becoming available 10 years ago, such as blogs and Twitter, but his personal creative production started to expand when he participated in CLMOOC. He started by creating a minute-and-a-half video as a “not-tro” for CLMOOC. As he put it in his blog: “Today, being an educator means constantly refining and experimenting with methods for being a learner and a creator. This idea has surfaced on Twitter and in Voxer chats, like #leadupchat; in conversations with colleagues; in blogs, articles, and books that I have read. I could not agree more. How can I possibly persuade my students that learning is vital, that they need to feed their curiosity and wonder, discover what they love to geek out about and then pursue it, if I do not engage in the same pursuit? Why would they listen to me? Why would I listen to me?”
I asked Glass what it was about CLMOOC that inspired him and he responded: “The first make cycle was really playful, and instantly this network of learners shared and supported one another.” My own first exposure to the idea of a “daily create” came from the storied open course ds106, which counseled: “Experimentation is key, and as always, the one hard and fast rule is MAKE ART DAMMIT!”
Glass started paying attention to the other things his CLMOOC mentors were doing, experimenting himself, and using what he learned to stimulate his students to try different ways to create, explore, and share their creations. “I emphasize the importance of play and having fun, exploring who we are and different ways to look at the world. There’s serious learning and discovery going on, and there’s also play…and fun. You have to be open to doing things you had not planned on doing, with people you had not planned on collaborating with. You have to take risks.” And, Glass documented his experiments to guide other educators: his use of Twitter, for example.
Like all of us who have taught today’s young people and discovered that growing up digital does not guarantee creative proficiency with online media. “We have tools at our disposal now that can enable us to be thoughtful creators. Unfortunately, not just kids but many adults fail to harness the tools in thoughtful, creative ways.” Glass knows that his students are on Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter, so he suggests ways to use their social media to investigate ideas, explore questions beyond their accustomed ways of using these media. “I knew that if I was going to push them to use these platforms for our work, I had to experiment myself and allow them to see the work I was doing. I’ve found as well that asynchronous conversations online, like around a class hashtag, can encourage the emergence of voices that aren’t as active in the classroom. I have multiple classes learning the same subject, so students can use social media to connect across classes. From time to time I’ve been able to link up with other teachers who are teaching similar subjects at the same level as my kids, so we get our kids talking as well.”
One of the experiments Glass modeled for his students was created a snap (on SnapChat) every day during National Poetry month, where he added a snap each day with a line of poetry and some sort of original visual art to go with it, calling the exercise “Snap To It: A Creative Challenge.” “When I use SnapChat’s story function to tell a story throughout the day or over a month, I’m always excited to see that some kids get curious about the process and take up the challenge themselves.” I know what he means – in my own classes, I discovered that I could only exert so much influence over the gestation of a co-learning community: I can model being a “lead learner,” but we all need a “first follower” or two or three to get the whole class engaged in a new way of learning.
Like any teacher, Glass is thrilled when some students become truly curious about the process of telling a story in a medium they had always used for another purpose. “I try to show them how many possibilities there are online for being creative. I’ve gotten to the point where to me that’s what learning is all about – helping my students find those moments when they can feel empowered to create. It’s essential to who we are as human beings.”
Glass’ humanities students keep ongoing digital sketchbooks where they try different, more visual means of communication. “Our class Instagram account turns into a flow, and fosters a sense of community among students — including students from previous years who continue to participate online. They get a kick when students from previous years engage with their work – liking, commenting, riffing in the same medium. Their enthusiasm is validated when older students who have graduated and off to the next stages of their lives are still invested in this kind of work we’re doing, combining our subject matter with creative exploration of social media.
The enthusiasm his students showed for commenting and reflecting on each other’s creative experiments led glass to try a kind of structured interviewing known as “curiosity conversations.” Glass described the process in his blog, using a conversation with educator innovator Kevin Hodgson as an example — which he then turned into a video. “Some kids were interviewing people close to them — some of these conversations just fill up my heart. We talked a bit about the essentials for podcasts, edited the sound files, brought in music clips for fills — and tried to get the most important parts of a 20 minute conversation into a four minute piece of audio.”
Creating and reflecting on media was a natural framework for analyzing the roles of media in their lives — teasing out what the people who make media aimed at them are doing with their attention, and why. Media literacy isn’t something you can just learn about without learning how to do.