Conditions for Knowing

In 2010 I created my very first Flickr account with the intent of becoming a refined photographer. How exactly was I going to accomplish this? By challenging myself to post one picture every day for 365 days. The idea was that I would get better at seeing the world in new ways with every snap of my camera. Days 1 and 2 proved quite promising. I woke up on both of these days with the excitement and fervor of a kid waking up to Christmas morning, snapped my pictures, quickly edited them for quality, and posted them to my account. Days 3 and 4 proved more difficult as I struggled to find the time in my busy schedule to snap and post photos, but nevertheless I accomplished this small feat. Day 5 came and went with no photo evidence to be found. That was the day that I never touched my account again. Six years later, the remnants of this challenge can be seen on the same Flickr account that I have begun using for my graduate studies classes today. The photos sit there like a tombstone on a dead project – a reminder of a goal left unfinished. What exactly went wrong? How could a simple “post a picture a day” challenge get derailed in as little as five days?

In reading Chapter 4: Visual Networks: Learning and Photosharing by Guy Merchant, I believe I have finally discovered the reasons for my 6 year 365 day failure. When I originally set out to accomplish my challenge, I had only one thing in mind: take photos and make sure they got posted. This was the only way that I interacted with Flickr. I thought of it as just another way to display my images; it was nothing more than that to me and that was my first mistake. A large part of the chapter focused on the use of Flickr not just as a tool for photo sharing, but as a social networking and learning environment. Merchant placed a heavy emphasis on this idea and referred back to it frequently in relaying his own experiences and the experiences of others with Flickr. He labeled Flickr many times as an affinity space -“social contexts that are guided by purpose, interest or content.” For him, Flickr was a way to invite meaning to his graffiti project by allowing people to comment on and engage with his photography. He not only collected a fan-base from his public galleries of art, but he also started conversations. In one of my earlier posts, I talked about how new forms of digital storytelling have begun to evolve the idea of literacy and its involvement with social learning. My thoughts from that previous post tie in perfectly with the ways in which I read about Guy Merchant’s use of Flickr, because he wasn’t just posting pictures, he was telling visual and written stories and inviting others to do the same. He talked about multi-modality – “the visual and verbal modes work together to establish and develop meanings” – and how this incorporated literacy through the use of photo tagging and adding descriptions and interesting titles along with the images. During the five days of my photo challenge so many years ago, I never once bothered to personalize my images in this way. To this day, you will see no tagging, no titles, and barely any descriptions on my photos. I never bothered to really talk about my own work, and, because of this, no one ever bothered to talk to me about it either. I inadvertently closed off communication with others; I closed off my own learning. I stopped caring about the project, because it didn’t engage me fully.

As I sit here writing this, I realize just how important social learning has become in my ability to process information. Merchanct writes, “seeing can transform into attentive noticing when we begin to label things in our environment.” While this most certainly applies to the idea of visual languages like photography, I can’t help but feel connected to this statement in another way. Reflecting back on my failed project and relating it to the things I’ve been reading in this course have forced me to start labeling my learning behaviors. As a result, they have helped me to see clearer what really motivates me to keep exploring and learning. These things have started to set the stage for attentive noticing and conditions for knowing myself better as a student and a teacher.

Moving forward, I am extremely intrigued in the idea of using Flickr to motivate my students in math. Reading some of the examples for how Merchant had seen students using photos to engage with literacy and learning has sparked a few ideas for me. I would like to design a semester long Flickr space for my students to upload the imagery that they encounter throughout their day that they interpret as relating to the math concepts we cover in class. A requirement of uploading their images would be that they have to tell a story in their description and use appropriate tags to convey their meaning to the world. I need to think a little bit harder about the rest of the details surrounding this project, but I am excited to begin trying another new avenue of mathematical exploration with my students. I am wondering how they feel this will impact their learning at the end of the semester? Check back later for my report on this exciting new development!


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