Christian Long and The Alice Project: Falling Down the Virtual Rabbit Hole

Christian Long believes that we are architects of the future and questions what does great teaching and learning look like? To demonstrate his point, he brought students Benedikt Kroll and Michael Nathman who experienced self teaching and learning through an interesting project: Falling Down the “Alice Project” Rabbit Hole as together students inverted traditional high school English research and writing. Long began by asking us why we chose this session over others, bringing the audience into the creative conversation. Long said his role was not to teach, not to lecture; rather he settled disputes, prodded people,worked as a moderator of learning. It was the kids who just kept going.

Long questions if his vision is relevant to their future when their primary goal is college. Alice is a story suspended below the ground. Long says that learning is about the “big mike.” Years ago, your story did not matter, go beyond the family bible unless you were a king or queen. Today, the game has changed and our roles as teachers have changed: ask great questions and DEMAND that they prove it in public because we must be relevant to the world. So, how do you have a big mike and relate to the world? Co-presenter Jason Kern supplied an answer later during the conversation: with his social network of approximately 100 followers and Long’s with 600+, you have a big mike because you have put yourself out there for the benefit of your students.

Long set up the project, gave them the “big picture,” asked the questions, and set the students loose with defined roles, but other than that, it was wide open. The teacher creates the project and guides students responsibly, asking questions that guide students in completing the project. It’s all about them and we make sure that everyone can go out there and do it.

Student Perspectives:

  1. Long teaches British Literature, “supposedly.” Referencing the “Big Ideas” session, students asked what teachers wanted their students to know, but the teachers did not ask how they would do that. Technology’s evolution enabled the Alice Project.
  2. At no time did Long pull in classroom methodology; if students were interested, they had to post it on their blog. Students liked it because they learned by what interested them. They all produced things that were interesting, and they chose how they wanted to blog, which way they wanted to learn.
  3. At this school, the students have created a community of bloggers and readers. Students say up to 4 AM because they want to get the job done, not because they are behind or there’s a due date. Between midnight and 4 AM, these students find the hours most productive. You feel like Alice; you want to dive down the hole. It’s magic.
  4. We did this project for 6 weeks but we are still thinking about Alice instead of Frankenstein. We taught ourselves and each other on our team. They think differently now, and it’s hard to think about learning in different environments where learning is not like this project.
  5. How do you deal with moving from blogging where you love what you are doing to going to math class? Teenagers jump on technology because it’s a laptop. Teachers get students to do what they want, but it’s important to use technology to make it public, collaborative, interactive. Technology makes you want to learn; the project not the laptop makes you want to learn. They read and interpreted Alice.
  6. Does this project put pressure on other teachers to make their learning more relevant? Students responded that other teachers say, “Alice time is over; it’s time for me now.” Long says that teachers are interested and they will get there. Day 1 it was different; it was simple and not exciting. 15 blogs, 15 comments to colleagues, 57 kids–do the math–you create a community of bloggers. Check their website, rules, student reflections, reflection videos at their project website. Students are used to reading, not reading annotations and research. Long gave really hard quizzes but did not count them; he used them to motivate them to read deeply.
  7. Long made the students consultants by asking them five final questions that they blogged. The ultimate and scary questions was, “Would you do this project again?” Their responses validate the project. They would do it again because it was a fun way to learn to read and analyze; it was not a teacher talking. The one “no” was because you can only do a project like this once. Check out videos at YouTube about this project.
  8. Why does anyone want to teach–to make students smarter–but what is smart? Teaching makes someone else happy; it’s not about giving them your idea. Without backing up their own ideas, they don’t get validated if they are not read. Teachers lose themselves in teaching students without looking at why they are teaching them. Help students achieve happiness at the level of their aspirations. The project is great because they could talk to and interact with people. In 30 years, I’ll still remember this project.
  9. The process: we do the post, submit to the team’s editor of the week for proofing. Student editor submits to Long, and Long approves and it goes to the blog. It was scary because it wasn’t just the students on their own but now they do not want to go back to the other way of learning.
  10. Student empowerment: did the rules and regs empower or restrict. In the beginning it was restricting, but when you got going, it was not restrictive at all. Long said it was a limitation to see what was possible. He had to have some public currency. What’s the stuff behind the stuff–not all perfect but you push through wanting pulling the plug. You needed to be deep enough into the project to get to the end.
  11. Without rules and regs for the project, some students might have done more to get the A before the deadline. But would this project build stress if the project was wide open? Student response: much scarier. Difference between quantity and quality. A restricted number kept quality in the posts.
  12. Long: difference between pain and discomfort: pain keeps you off the playing; discomfort puts you there. 15 was just a number.
  13. Were there indifferent students? Not really because according to the students, they get weeded out. Real people from around the world commented, not just the teacher. That was a motivator.
  14. What about the students who do not like English? The stereotype of the student who just want to pass after one or two weeks, they started to get competitive in a good way. I’m going to write another one, analyzing with pop culture. The students liked the book because it covered everything. Teams helped each other out. They used CoverItLive and posted the information. Competition and collaboration worked hand in hand in this project.
  15. Does blogging affect other discourses? Students said yes because audience is global, and you write differently for a public/global audience. Will Richardson‘s “are you clickable” notion. You have to thing about your audience which is in flux, according to Long, because it’s live. Relevance is part of the equation, not just accuracy.
  16. Readers of the blogs went down the rabbit hole with the writers, really loving going down that hole.
  17. Would this project work with other texts other than Alice? Students said that the Annotated Alice lent itself well for this project, but you could do this project with any book as long as you consider your audience. Would Frankenstein work–yes, if adapted. It’s all about how you frame the questions for the text, the self-discovery. Dancing monkey and Svengali was something Long did not have to be.
  18. One student’s connection was a playlist for Alice that evolved from every music genre.
  19. How did the students feel about adult comments? Proudest about? The students knew they would get read, but they never anticipated they would be commented upon. It really makes a difference because they had an audience of readers in the real world.
  20. Did the students use social networking differently? Students used Facebook. What changed was knowing that everyone read what you wrote that was on your network, so it changed through interaction. They thought differently about FB because they realized someone was really reading everything.
  21. Students used the Alice story to explain the annotations in the beginning, but then they moved to the annotations. It was like they read a book within a book.
  22. How did you create buzz for the project? Risks and rewards? Long went for the first time with names because you can undo anything with the right reasons. School, students, photos: first name last initial, but it did not give the students a digital footprint. You need to network yourself/your students. Long has 500-600 followers and that’s how he got the project out. Without being a connected teacher, you cannot connect your students. You have to put yourself out there from your students. Learn as a teacher how to market in the real world, not your comfort zone. Act like a corporate professional and network. You need to wheel and deal to give students a future, so make a phone call and ask people to help you help your students.
  23. One SLA student asked the students if they used the power of video and other media to push back and work on the project. Video should add to but not distract from the writing. Long says most of the work was inspiring, but a good rough draft upon which to build. Long did a museum artifact that someone could find in Lord of the Flies. At the same time as they were blogging, they also did other readings/projects. Be magnificent, be remembered, and find the right tools. Next week they will debate was Frankenstein‘s responsibility as a moral creature, so they use Google Docs, create a public wiki if it’s worth it. Manipulate great tool for the moment. Use the web of things they did, turned in, of what was possible, which was not perfect execution.
  24. What can not so motivated teachers do to motivate you? And the answer is what bothers students most is a teacher who constantly talks and has a book in his hand. How can a math teacher do it (differently). Don’t just read the book because students can get the same experience by going home. The teacher’s experience is not to read the book but make the students a resource to themselves is the most important thing. The most important thing is connection to the outside world. So, math class and finding the hypotenuse–why do it if you do not connect to the real world, a real building. Connect the rituals of the book to the rituals of society, and not just because you are killing me.

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