Thursday, April 28, 2011

Final Thoughts, Collaborative Inquiry, 2011

April 28, 2011

As I began to assemble my portfolio in a form that would make sense to my viewers, I had an epiphany. Along the way and throughout the year, I have been reflecting through conversations with colleagues and through writing. You can see my thought process through my previous posts. However, it wasn't until I began organizing and selecting a range of student work to show to my viewers, that I realized how much more learning had taken place, for me and the students. As I began putting together a sampling of work created by the students from the ISB, China and our students at YHS, Maine, USA, I realized how similar many of our assignments were and/or how many are strongly influenced by each other.

My original Collaborative Inquiry question was, "What is the impact on students' learning when they complete, share, and react to a common assessment with students from another culture?". However, the more work I did with Kendra, I felt like the question should be changed to "What is the impact on instruction and student learning when two teachers from different parts of the world collaborate?" The second question gets at the vast learning that I gained through my collaboration with Kendra. I do think that our collaboration had an impact on student learning, but not just because students have done similar assignments and shared work, but because Kendra and I have been collaborating for over a year now, strengthening our programs, and sharing resources.

There are several examples of how our collaboration has impacted student learning. Students, both this semester and last semester were able to participate in a Skype. Both sets of students enjoyed the process, felt it was worthwhile and a good learning experience. Students also expressed that they learned about the culture of China and how different and similar the lives of the teenagers in Beijing are as compared to their own.

Both Kendra's students and my students completed similar weekly assignments: Keep it Simple, Shadows, Portraits, Out of the Window, and We are what We Eat. Students posted their work on the Ning and frequently students from both  ISB  and YHS shared feedback. Kendra and I also created voicethreads for some of these assignments and posted on the Ning so that the images were all in one place and students could comment more easily. There were other assignments that our students also completed that were similar as well. Please visit the collaborative project links to see them.

While searching through the hundreds of images on our Ning, I realized how powerful the Culture Clash Assignment really was for students. This assignment was also inspired by a similar project that Kendra does with her students. I asked students to look through the images of the Beijing students and our images and combine, fragment, and juxtapose several  images to make a "surreal" photo montage" that communicates "Cutlure Clash". The power stems from the students really looking carefully at many different images from the ISB students and our students; through this process they are noticing similarites and differences between our cultures. Students talked about this in their reflections of the assignment; it was so reinforcing to hear it from the students!

It was fascinating for me to see the huge influence that our collaboration has had on my Photo 1 curriculum. As I was sorting through the work, I saw so many similarities in the quality of the work from both groups of students. What has helped to make this collaboration so successful is that Kendra and I have similar expectations and standards for student artwork and writing. It is impressive to see the caliber of both groups of students to be so high! While subject matter may separate us in some instances, the concepts and quality are clearly evident and a high level of learning can be observed through all student work!

April, 2011, Collaborative Inquiry, 2011

April 11, 2011
So we started off the semester with good intentions of strengthening our collaboration. We Skyped again, soon after the new semester began. The Skype went so much better this time around as we were more prepared and organized. We set up questions ahead of time, like we did before, but we were more organized in the facilitation of the questions so that students could really hear and understand the answers. We had a time limit and kept the Skype focused on getting to know each other. Our intent was to Skype again, and talk more about photography and engage in a discussion about similar work.

However, this semester, has not seemed to be as smooth as last semester. While Kendra and I have been in touch frequently through several emails, we are somewhat out of sync with the students. The vacation differences has been challenging this semester. The time difference also plays a big factor in our communication. Because Beijing is 12 hours ahead of us, it is difficult for Kendra to respond to certain questions and it definitely is challenging because we really can’t have a fluid conversation.

Overall this collaboration has been meaningful, but in some ways I think it has been more rewarding for me than the students. I have learned so much about another culture just through the small ways we have shared ideas and images. I have also learned a great deal from Kendra; we have shared so many concepts, ideas, and strategies throughout the past year and a half. I believe that my curriculum is much stronger as a result. Because I am the sole teacher of Photography and Graphic Design, it has been such a positive experience to exchange ideas with a teacher who teaches similar content.

I do believe that this collaboration has had some impact on student learning, but I saw the influence more with last semester’s classes than I think I will this semester. The students were more in contact with the Beijing students last semester than this semester. It is unfortunate that there is such a lock-down on the Interent in China; my hope was that our students could build more of a relationship than just talking photography. However, this is very difficult to do because the Beijing students cannot go home and access the Internet and tools such as Facebook or even our Ning. This is unfortunate, as the collaboration that they have with my students is in such a controlled setting at school.

It seems like a better question for my inquiry would have been:
What happens to instruction and student learning when teachers who are teaching a similar course collaborate from different parts of the world?

February, 2011, Collaborative Inquiry, 2011

February, 9, 2011

The Skype ended up being a fantastic and positive learning experience. However, I was unsure of the reaction that my students would have the next day in class, immediately after it was over. Although both groups of students had prepared questions ahead of time, my students and Kendra’s students, the students were a bit awkward when they were live on the screen. But they were both awkward. I guess it is the teenager was interesting because both groups behaved similarly, even though they are miles apart with quite different backgrounds. In any event, the students talked for about an hour and seemed to enjoy it. The conversation was mostly about similarities and differences in activities/lifestyle in and out of school. 

When asked how the Skype went, my students were overwhelming positive...they loved it. Read their feedback here.

We finished the semester with another project titled, “ Culture Clash”...the students took photographs from the Beijing students and combined them with their own, using Photoshop...The purpose was not only to learn some basic tools in Photoshop, but to also really pay attention to and look at the differences between our cultures and surroundings.

After looking through the students end of the year portfolios and feedback, I could see the influence that the collaboration with the Beijing students had on their learning. See examples here.

Kendra and I decided that we would continue this collaboration this semester...we decided that we would try to Skype twice...once at the beginning of the semester to introduce the students and again in the middle/end to discuss photo techniques/strategies...

Closer to the end of the first semester we both did a photojournalism project. Kendra's students went into a small village near their school and photograph what life is like for these people. They shared their images in animoto.

My students did a project, titled, "who are you?" They photographed images that described who they are, specifically to an audience that knew nothing about them. The students put their projects together in an imovie; we posted them to the Ning and shared with our friends in Beijing.

Kendra and I have had many challenges along the way, especially with our differing schedules and time zones. However, we both see the benefits of our collaboration and continue to persevere when things get crazy busy in our personal and professional lives.

December, 2010, Collaborative Inquiry, 2011

December, 2010
This fall, for my collaborative inquiry, I decided to work with Kendra Farrell, teacher at the International School of Beijing, China (ISB). We have been communicating back and forth since we met in August. We have shared many ideas and resources, along with student work. Her students joined my Ning and have been posting images and comments. Kendra and I have similar expectations when it comes to  student work. We both empower students to create high quality, creative images, along with encouraging students to write with thoughtfulness and ingenuity. The students have responded well and enjoy reading each other’s feedback.

When asked to formulate my question for my collaborative inquiry, I sat down with a couple of colleagues for help in developing my question. The feedback that I heard was that my original ideas were too broad and I should pare my question down into something more specific. Therefore, my question ended up being, “What is the impact on students’ learning when they complete, share, and react to a common assessment with students from another culture?”

Kendra and I began the semester by giving the same assignment, called, “Keep it Simple”. Our students looked at the work of Andrew Nagl, a 17 year old, photographer/web desginer, from Baltimore, MD. This was a resource and assignment that I learned from working with Kendra. Her students completed this first, then my students did the assignment. They posted comments on each other’s images and were thrilled to see similarities and differences about how both sets of students interpreted the assignment from different parts of the world.

We have also done some other of the same assignments, such as “Shadow Photography” and most recently, “Out of the Window”. The “Out of the Window” assignment was probably the most dramatic. It was VERY interesting for the students to share ideas about what they saw when they looked out of their windows. The differences among the students in Beijing and the students in Yarmouth, Maine, as one might imagine, are quite different!

Kendra and I began sharing student work through a voicethread. Students submitted a photograph of their choice and then the teachers created a voicethread to share. Students then were able to comment on specific images on the thread. However, the problem was that they couldn’t continue a dialogue on the voicethread. It was a “dead” conversation. So, Kendra and I discussed how we might be able to encourage more of a dialogue among the students. Her students joined my Ning, where comments can easily be made back and forth, like a blog.

The impact on student learning, through sharing these ideas and images has been positive and engaging. Many of my students are very interested in and motivated to really look at the students from ISB school’s images and make their own comments, even when I haven’t required them to do so. This is probably the biggest and most satisfying, as their teacher, thing to see; my students, on their own time, enjoying looking and giving feedback to other students’ work. I check the Ning daily and can see recent activity; it is exciting to see a dialogue back and forth between the students from differing parts of the world. When someone makes a comment on a student’s image, that person receives an email letting him/her know.

The downfall to this is that there are some students who have not received any comments from the ISB students at all. This is something that Kendra and I have discussed but have not found a good solution. When we ask students to comment on each other’s work, they choose images on which they want to comment. It is difficult to make the students comment on specific works because then it is not as meaningful, it is forced.

After sharing images and ideas for several weeks, I asked Kendra if she would like to Skype with my students. We decided it would be an interesting idea to connect our students in person. In preparation for this, her students and my students developed a series of questions and posted them on the Ning. Both sets of students were able to see the questions ahead of time to give the questions some thought.