Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Creating globally connected, rigorous and highly motivated assignments by Alan November

These are my notes from session 3 at the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai with Alan November. I am recording this session with permission from Alan and will post it here later as a podcast.


– you had to construct your own learning
– you thought you knew how to do something, but via a form of authentic assessment you learned that was not the case

If we capture the qualities of these experiences you can:

1- construct your own learning
2- authentic assessment
3- immediate feedback (read Flow on that, for realtime feedback), it is so critical yet teachers take work home to give feedback later…
4- social interaction: engagement with at least 1 other person
5- goal is clear in your head, and you had a chance to
6- had a need to learn it

Borrow a term from Chris Dede: you are problably dealing with OVERHWELMING quantities of information, “ill conceived information,” not organized properly
– most of the information we provide to students is “well conceived”
– life, however, is NOT like that
– we need to give students more problems with ill-conceived information (that is counter-intuitive for most teachers, most work hard to develop lessons

i am a big fan of “less is more”

definition of learning is “you have to make mistakes”

It is very hard to transfer success to another problem
– the research in school is incredible, transferrance from 1 subject to another is VERY difficult to do
– in math: never give students equations in mathematics,
– math ought to be the most exciting course in schools, but it is usually deadly, being based on memorizing things that other people have already figured out

let me give you a problem
– I teach a doctoral class with Will Richardson
– 1 student is an instructor at WestPoint
– btw, I apologize for everything George Bush has done and ever will do
– all instructors at WestPoint are now required to introduce Islam into the curriculum

Example: Pope’s visit to Turkey last year, shared some comments
– so now: find the impact of the Pope’s visit to Turkey last year

how would you construct that search

there are 3 skills we don’t teach in school, that if we don’t decide that is important…

1- teach students to deal with MASSIVE quantities of information
– you can
– students need to understand patterns
– different organizational patterns for information

2- global communication skills / global communicators
– every classroom a global communications center
– checking sources with people on the ground

3- you must be self-directed
– you must be a lifelong learner
– unfortunately most people think that means I can sign up for another course that someone teaches me
– no: it means you do NOT have to rely on someone to spoonfeed you for your learning

Those are 3 essential skills for your graduates

to test you as a teacher, we actually ask you to leave the room and give your students a problem they’ve never had before
– have you developed capacity in your students to self-organize and solve problems

Ideas for the challenge from workshop participants:

– us Al Jazeerah website
use search for pope Turkey islam

the WestPoint instructor did a simple keyword search in Google for Pope and politics islam visit
– got a lot
– what’s wrong with the pattern you get: it is all Western sources
– so those sources would actually reinforce a Western bias about this topic and these information

so instead we can limit sources to just websites in Turkey:

host:tr Islam response Pope
– search in Altavisa
– now we just get 207 results from Turkey

no one at WestPoint seemed to understand the grammar of the Internet

not up for debate: WE MUST teach children critical thinking on the Internet
– the grammar, syntax and punctuation of the Internet
– if you don’t understand the structure of information, you can’t have an interesting conversation

I have some tricks that WORK:
– when you can upset people, you have “got them”
– when you can shake people to their roots of what they believe, then they become much more interested in engaging and learning than if you just reinforce what they already perceive or believe

so when I teach history, I am going to get the British perspective

Altavista search example: “American Revolution” “General Gage”

I can usually find an email of an author
– these are only academic sources

example of “shots heard round the world”
– why did the American colonists “miss” hitting the British when they shot at them?
– they were drunk!

measure the experience of students creating a recorded debate about the American Revolution and posting that to iTunes – compared to having a written examination at the end of the week

“host” is in altavista and “site” is in Google
– Altavista can give you 10x the results of Google for searches like this

Rules for design
– you need an authentic audience
– there should be a global voice involved so the work lives on, it adds value to the school’s directory of learning objects
– creating a legacy (learning object) that lives beyond the “grade” given to the assignment
– (Alan did give credit for the term “wings” to Marco)


What is an organized database of learning objects

Story of a librarian saying only “published authors” belong in the card catalog
– my goal would be that every student should be recognized and published in the school library’s card catalog

All students should be given an assignment to contribute to WikiPedia

simple keyword search for “november”
– there are 3/4 of a billion hits
– wikipedia is number 1 and 2
– the website I often cannot beat in Google is WikiPedia

I have news: the Internet is elegant in its structure and architecture
– it is precise
– if you don’t know the rules and know why information is placed in front of you, “you don’t know” then you are being manipulated every time you use Google and you don’t even know you’re being manipulated

research shows in Google, if you are not in the top screen it really doesn’t matter
– I have to be in the top screen

Alan is using the website as a proxy to access WikiPedia from here in China

in WikiPedia, quality of the knowledge is controlled by the many


Alan’s example on WikiPedia was Pitot House

We can design VERY inspiring and rigorous assigments that blow away traditional assignments
– compare “traditional” research assignments to teachers who empower their students to be global authors

WikiPedia articles students have helped author is a LEGACY
– every 3rd grader ought to know the rigor and discipline of writing an encyclopedia article written for the world to review
– I think that is a good assignment

I think children should have a global voice
– younger kids don’t worry as much about being judged
– teens get more concerned about this
– so we need to do this when they are young, they will already know the social citizenship responsiblities of publishing for worldwide
– social justice issues fall in here
– schools need to

You can’t edit via a proxy site
– get your own wiki site then


Harvard business school case study model / methodology
– it is a process you go through to solve any problem

first problem we solved: no yellow pages for disabled in Boston
– in 1984: by kids organized all 97 agencies

Have your schools identified various processes for solving any problem, and embedding those across content area disciplines?
– teach children across different disciplines similar processes for solving problems, so kids REALLY are learning PROCESSES for solving problems so students learn that process more than they learn CONTENT
– it needs to be organized and across the school

Has the school recognized that transferring from one content area to another is almost impossible
– real test is cross-applicablitiy of ideas and skills in a different

International Bacclaureate group has looked at this

research shows that learning something in computer science doesn’t transfer to history

in the world of the Internet, memorization is your worst enemy

Now Alan is showing an excerpt from “Digital Students, Analog Schools” by Marco Torres’ students
– these kids are not asking for more technology
– they are asking for a change in their role
– students are staying I want to step up there with the teacher

Each year each teacher should give a standing assignment to kids, that they should locate web resources which contribute to the curriculum

I think the role of the teacher is to create the structure of the learning environment, not to handle all the details

unlearning is more difficult than bolting something on to something you already do
– stopping a behavior is much more difficult than just giving a teacher a smartboard so s/he
– we have technologies that is reinforcing some REALLY bad behavior in classrooms
– the last thing you want to do is buy technologies which reinforce historically bad learning behaviors

so, in summary:
– we need to teach students the grammar of the Internet

Example: – A Bomb museum in Hiroshima
– students should be bringing resources like these to the teacher
– 1 job for students is the academic research team: bring rigorous and highly motivating content to the classroom
– podcasting team (don’t send teachers to learn how to podcast, just send a group of kids)
– teachers don’t need to know HOW to podcast, they need to know WHEN to podcast and WHAT to podcast
– we waste too much time teaching teachers technology


this is my fulltime job, and I am woefully behind

Teachers don’t need to know how to screencast, they need to know how to EDIT the screencasts their students create

Now Alan is showing Room208’s VodCast about how they podcast

Google works on links to websites

You DO need to empower kids to have a global voice

Example of CamTasia studio screencast by student, teaching how to crop a photograph
– the voice of the child explaining this is DIFFERENT than the voice of the teacher
– this girl has created a legacy
– plus her example has shown it is OK to stop, pause, think, take some time (often teachers never slow down or make a mistake)

Today it is so fun, the tools are mostly free, the current boundary is the limits of our imagination for what we want students to do and learn

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3 responses to “Creating globally connected, rigorous and highly motivated assignments by Alan November”

  1. John Larkin Avatar

    Hi Wes (and Will)

    I have been reading your posts, as well as Will Richardson’s, with great interest. I wish I was there at the conference. I have taught in Asia myself and even though I have been back in Australia I still miss the overseas experience. The students and teachers in Singapore and the surrounding countries had a thirst for knowledge. The libraries in Singapore reflected this thirst. It was standing room only.

    I agree about teaching students “the grammar of the Internet”. I love to teach the students how to conduct informed and beneficial research on the Internet.

    Have any of the participants raised the issue of the perceived versus the actual skill set of the “Digital Natives” that we teach? Sue Waters posted some telling thoughts on her excellent blog….

    I wonder are they Digital Natives or simply Digital Dilettantes? How “digital” are the digital students?

    Best wishes,

    John Larkin
    St Joseph’s Catholic High School
    NSW, Australia

  2. Joselyn Todd Avatar

    Wes, I have been following your trip to China and Learning 2.0. Thank you for posting your notes re: Alan November’s session on what I will call “Assessments 2.0.” I teach general middle school science as well as an advanced middle school science elective and have been employing screencasting as a formative and summative assessment tool. For example, today my students are taking a quiz re: an experiment about density. They will be asked to used a applet in class to demonstrate and explain density and buoyancy through a 4 minute screencast. Assessment grading is done by their peers as well as by me through a rubric which includes a category called “creativity :-)”. The products are at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy by their very nature. We use Windows Media Encoder and $10 mics as hardware (we are a 1:1 school- Cary Academy, NC). Using this mode of assessment, I have found that many of the same “best practice” principles apply as it is so important to ask students to illustrate, explain, solve, demonstrate, etc. through rather open ended, thought provoking questions. Backwards design supported by Web 2.0 tools is serving me well as a teacher as I design Web 2.0 assessments.

    One of the roadblocks I have run into is that parents expect a paper and pencil test- after all this is how they learned. As well, although I know that the employment of a Web 2.0 teaching pedagogy (if there is such a thing) will best serve my students in the long run, what about the short haul? I have had to believe that through a Web 2.0 learning model that they will be able to successfully demonstrate competency on a Web 1.0 standardized test. I am hoping that those of us who really “get” Web 2.0 and the power which it represents in a k-12 educational landscape will be able to start making concrete movement towards educating those at the top (term loosely applied) regarding more authentic assessments when it comes to high stakes testing.

    Again- keep the podcasts coming. My dogs and I have run countless miles while listening in on “our” iPod nano 🙂 . -Joselyn Todd, Cary Academy ,