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Laura Gibbs

Power of Connections: Unit One... THE DESK

4 min read

Okay, this is great: it looks like I have time to complete the "Make a Connection" task from Unit One in before leaving, sharing my desk like Stacy did! Unlike Stacy, my desk is always pretty spartan (i.e. boring). I actually have one really cool thing on my desk: it's an oil core off to the right of my monitor. My husband got that for me for my birthday this year. But other than that, it's just electronics. The desk itself is electronic, too: a standing desk, which I really like, especially during the school year when I am at the desk all day. Up and down is good for the brain. On the wall: Peaceable Kingdom by Hicks and a sleeping fox (from Etsy).

But like Stacy, my BOOKSHELF was much more fun to take a picture of. I have lots of other bookshelves around the house but this is the one to the right of my desk, so it is the one that I see all day and that has the stuff I actually USE on it. Reorganizing the contents is something I do at the beginning and end of every semester, as opposed to my other bookcases which are, admittedly, slumbering happily and gathering dust.

So, what to point out here...

* second shelf from bottom on left: Amar Chitra Katha comic books... ALL of them. That is thanks to Stacy and the OER Initiative in the OU Library. There is a set of those same comic books in Bizzell and they will be on reserve for my students in the fall. Total, complete, utter absolute excitement about this. More here: Amar Chitra Katha comic books. The stack on the left I have blogged; the ones standing up are next-to-be-blogged, and then the two stacks to the right are gosh-I-hope-I-have-time-to-blog-them.

* bottom shelf on the left: Can you see the fox? It says VULPES, and it is from my favorite Kickstarter ever: the PICTURAE project from the genius guys at Pericles Group. They prepared a CC-licensed set of images for language instructors, and you could sponsor a word as the Kickstarter pledge! I sponsored FOX, Latin VULPES, and so I got a framed fox, signed by the artist, as my reward. Here's a link to the Kickstarter and here's a link to the database: Picturae Database. Kevin Ballestrini, if you read this, you know you are my hero!

* The three shelves above the comic books are all India-related books. This has been the great summer of India for me, and I am looking forward to a great year of India as I share the "UnTextbook" with the students I've been working on with the students (latest details). Last year I focused on my Myth-Folklore course, so on the right-hand set of shelves (mostly covered up with pictures and stuff) are the folklore and proverb books that held my attention last year. 

* Do you see the magnetic hovering Tardis on the top shelf left? Doctor Who and Star Trek are my televised passions.

* Shelf of stuffed animals. They each have a story. Some of them feel a lot more sentimental now that my mother has passed away (just a few months ago); she gave me a lot of those animals.

* Cats. Yes, we have two real cats. And anyone who knows me online knows that I do digital cats also. Latest project: Growth Mindset Memes. With cats.

So, I could go on and on about the books and other things on those shelves. About my desk, not so much... but the world of books means a lot to me, as I said in a post earlier today. The world of digital books online is a paradise that I never even dreamed I would get to enjoy in my lifetime! The actual physical books I need to have at hand fill just a few shelves now... but that's only because there is a whole world of full-text books online that I can access now, glory hallelujah!

Okay... I'll be out of town for the next few days, but checking back in when I get home to see what's been happening. Have fun!!!


Laura Gibbs

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Student Engagement?

2 min read

Originally posted at Anatomy of an Online Course. Now reposting here for feed. :-)

I talk about student engagement A LOT ... and what I mean by that is students creating and sharing their learning — in their blogs, at their websites, and in the comments they leave for each other as they read and respond to each other's work. Every student is different, and they each have something unique and wonderful to contribute to the class as you can see in this Flickr slideshow with snapshots of some Storybook projects:

(want music? just click play below!)

I could go on and on about the amazing things that happen when students unleash their imaginations and share the results with one another... but instead of reading my words here, I'd urge you to go EXPLORE and take a look at their work! Here are some links:

To learn more about student writing and student writers, you might be interested in this blog post: The Shift from Teaching Content to ... Teaching Writers.


... And I'm looking forward to participating in Power of Connections this summer in order to share and explore the potential of connected learning together with you!


From everyone's favorite clarinet-player in Mumbai, Shankar Tucker:


Laura Gibbs

Power of Connections: Unit One Improv

2 min read

The first assignment for was an improv activity. So much fun! I absolutely love stuff like this. I tweeted my response (LINK because I don't want to spoil it for others since everybody gets same object, so I have not included picture of object either)... and was thinking that I would like to try "power improvisation" also (like power lunch! power napping! power improv!) where there would be a series of 6 images at 30 sec each to see if our brains can stay turbocharged for 3 minutes. Is it possible to train our brains to be better at this kind of activity? I am sure that it is. 

I can definitely see playing around with this in my Growth Mindset Challenges for the students next semester! I need to build a randomizer to do that to pop up the different objects; I'll do that when I get back from my trip, so THANK YOU to Power of Connections for giving me something I can pass on to my students already! Whoo-hoo!

Some extras:

Here's one of my favorite "think creatively" cartoons: Imagine the Box.

And I also really like this infographic/video: 29 Ways to Stay Creative.


It's available as a video also:

Laura Gibbs

Power of Connections: Getting Started — Unit One, Lesson One: Definitions

7 min read

I got Rob's email this morning and I wanted to do some "Power of Connections" stuff today since I am going to be out of town for the rest of the week. My goal is to participate in this class in open spaces since I'm not a fan of closed learning spaces... and that turns out to be a theme of the course, so I am glad I did log in to see what's going on on Day One (and yes, I had to get a username reminder and a password reminder because is not a space that is part of my daily routine). I'm going to use Known here since I really do want to get to know that platform better, and it offers a hashtag specific feed, so that should work for connecting with others. Rob has also kindly invited me to participate in the Blogger blog here — The Power of Connections — and I'll probably be writing some posts there also, but I'll see if I can get more familiar with Known as part of this process, esp. if I want to be a Known evangelist with my students this Fall! So... here goes!


I quickly found my way to the first lesson, which included both a written dialogue between Rob and Stacy and a video. The video is on Vimeo (YAY!), which means I can share it here: The Power of Connections: Interview with Stacy Zemke, OER Coordinator for the University of Oklahoma.

The Power of Connections: Interview with Stacy Zemke, OER Coordinator for the University of Oklahoma from NextThought on Vimeo.


I watched the video, but the most useful part of the presentation was not so much the information in the video, but something that emerged in the text dialogue that frames the video. There are two definitions that Rob and Stacy put out there for us to consider (and thank goodness for text: I can copy and paste!):

ONE: Student engagement is moving students to reflect on information genuinely, apply it personally, and connect it to their community.

TWO: Learner engagement is ultimately about helping people make as many connections as possible within that network of possibilities. The more connections,the more engaged a person is. The more engaged, the more enduring the learning experience.

It is that second definition that really clicks for me. Here's a kind of story of the "networked me" in 2015:

As a child, I was very aware of that "network of possibilities" in the form of BOOKS, books that connected me to other people (the authors of those books) and also to other worlds (I carried on imaginary dialogues with all my favorite characters). Sometimes, if I was lucky, I was able to use those books to make connections with other people who shared a love of those books. I could rattle off a hundred book titles, but just as one example, I read and re-read and re-read the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, and I still love to re-read these books. These are the bookcovers of the tattered paperbacks of my childhood:

We moved around a lot as a child, and I had trouble making friends, but books were my constant companions (they moved with me), and they were also a kind of secret code I could use to see if I might connect with kids in the new school. I was bored and frustrated in school because the curriculum seemed to ignore the fact that I was part of this amazing network of connections; the books I was reading (and I read a TON of books) really mattered to me, always leading me to new and more things to think and imagine, while school seemed like a series of dead-end, meaningless experiences culminating in quizzes and tests and other forms of utter tedium.

So, when I first got online (I made my first webpages back in late 1998 and was hooked from the first webpage!), the idea of an online network made perfect sense to me, and it was like a dream come true: instead of carrying a network around in my head (the books were all disconnected, separated from one another physically, and I was the one toting the network of connections in my neurons, feeling very much alone a lot of the time, very much "in my head"), now I could be part of an externalized network, connecting in visible form with others, sharing those idea, spreading those ideas, learning even more than before. Not just pieces of paper, but PEOPLE.

Books are still a big part of the network, and I still read a lot, but I read so many other things besides books AND I write so much more than I did before. I always saw myself as a reader, but the Internet turned me into a writer... and while I felt mostly alone for much of my life, the advent of truly social networks online has changed that for me completely. With books, I knew I would never feel bored, and with the Internet, I know I don't have to feel alone. I know that is not the experience everybody has with books or with the Internet, but that is definitely my experience, so this notion of "making as many connections as possible within that network of possibilities" really (REALLY) resonates with me.

Information versus NETWORKS of information 

Here's where the first definition above loses me: information. Without some communication context, information is a word that doesn't work for me, which is why the idea of connectedness is crucial. There is an infinite amount of "information" out there in the world (if you want to blow your mind, read Gleick's The Information... best book I have read on that, absolutely fabulous IMO), and in order to let information rise to my level of consciousness so that I really focus on it and think about it, I need the information to ALREADY be connected to something: connected to other information that matters to me as a person, connected to other people who matter to me, information that I have come into contact with through my own active efforts, information that, in short, I actually CARE about for some reason. I'm guessing that the idea of caring about the information is implied in this definition — Student engagement is moving students to reflect on information genuinely, apply it personally, and connect it to their community — but I need something to make that more explicit, something that acknowledges this is information I care about, information that I have come into contact with and chosen to focus on, information that matters to me for some reason, even if I have not yet fully explored its meaning. The connection cannot just be something I make after the fact ex nihilo. The connection has to be there already to bring the information to my attention.

That's why I really like the focus on a learning NETWORK in the other definition. I am acutely aware of how information comes to me because it flows through networks, and that is a network of persons who are creating and sharing information: authors of books, writers of blogs, tweeters of tweets, smilers of smiles, etc. The information that comes to me through my network is very likely something that matters to me, so it is worth my paying attention to it, and the network is what also gives me the opportunity (and motivation) to engage to begin with.

... Eeeek: that turned out to be a far longer ramble than expected... and I still want to do some more work before starting to pack up for very early flight tomorrow. So, I will happily add the hashtag here, and then go share this at Twitter and G+ also. I'll be out of town for the rest of this week but thanks to the asynchronous power of the written word, I'll be able to check back and see what others are saying about this first lesson for the course, using the hashtag to conect. Whoo-hoo!

Update: The RSS for is working!

Laura Gibbs

Re-Mediating Indian Epics... and the Power of CHOICE.

13 min read

Technology flashback: Back in 1990 when I was working in a university stats lab by day and going to school by night to get certified as a high school teacher, I took an educational technology class, and even back then, BEFORE THE INTERNET, I found the possibilities thrilling. For my class project, I wrote what would be called a "recommender system" in the form of an interactive Lotus spreadsheet. I asked students a series of questions about movies and television shows and then, based on their answers (I played around with some funky algorithms to weight and combine their responses), the spreadsheet would then recommend what young adult books they would enjoy reading. One of the most important challenges I could imagine for myself as a high school English teacher was putting the right books in the hands of each student, and I was sure technology could help. And this was before my current students were even born! Ha! 

Fast forward to 2015: The whole high school thing did not work out (for reasons that surpass all understanding, a B.A. from Berkeley, an M.Phil. from Oxford, and two additional years of teacher education courses were still not enough to qualify me to teach high school in the proud state of Tennessee) ... but now, teaching college classes in the Internet age, I am able to put books in my students' hands using technology I would not have even dared to hope for 25 years ago. For my online Myth-Folklore class, I have always used free public domain sources online, and last summer I expanded those range of reading options with an "UnTextbook" that has 100 different reading units for students to choose from. I've made selections from all kinds of mythology and folklore books that are available in full-text format online, and the idea is that students explore something new each week (their choice!) and, ideally, if they are excited about something, they can read the whole book online for free if they want, or even listen to free audiobooks from LibriVox. You can see how that works here: Myth-Folklore UnTextbook.

Re-Making Indian Epics. This summer, I am re-making my Indian Epics class in the same spirit. Unlike Myth-Folklore, though, this class is harder to teach with just public domain materials. When I first started teaching the class over 10 years ago, it was not even an option; there were very few public domain texts that I could even consider, and even Wikipedia did not have a lot of good reference articles. Now, though, the world of digitized public domain books is simply dazzling, and I realized back in December that I could re-make my class so that students could have the option of reading public domain texts online OR the four mass market paperbacks that I had traditionally used for teaching the class. I began to redesign the class with that goal in mind, finding all the possible public domain books that I could work with for both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and also for ancient Indian storytelling in general (the Puranas, Panchatantra, Jatakas, etc.). You can get a sense of how thrilled I was about this from the Google+ post where I shared my initial plans: December 3 rapture.

So, I was busily working away on this starting in December, and I was able to get input and feedback from my Indian Epics students in the spring semester, asking them to look at some books and also to let me know what kind of online book formats they liked best (I was surprised by how much they liked Google Books, which is kind of awkward to work with for me because of the strange URLs for the pages) and which book formats they liked least (I was bummed out by negative feedback for Hathi Trust, but since they can download Hathi books as PDFs, that gets around their frustration with the Hathi reading interface itself). I was planning to spend the summer writing up Reading Guides for these public domain books, just as I had always relied on Reading Guides for the paperback books in class (for example: Narayan's Ramayana).

NOT JUST TEXT ANYMORE. But then... AMAR CHITRA KATHA happened. I can pinpoint the date exactly again, thanks to Google+. For years, I had coveted the ACK Ultimate Collection of 300+ comic books based on the Indian classics and Indian history. It always cost over $1000, but a couple of times each year I would check in and just see what the list price was and dream about how cool it would be to own all those comic books. I had bought a bundled pack of the Jataka comic books, and they were marvelous, but I just couldn't justify paying over $1000 for comic books... and then: SALE. With FREE SHIPPING from Mumbai. The whole thing for $399. And no sales tax. I was ecstatic: 33 pounds of comic books.  You can read about that here: April 10.

And then... EVEN BETTER: Stacy Zemke, the OER goddess for the University of Oklahoma Libraries, suggested that we could possibly buy the comic books to have on Reserve in the Library. WOW.

And then... Stacy suggested that I apply for an OER grant so that I could explore all kinds of options for re-making my Indian Epics class. Stacy's office offers a fabulous grant opportunity (it is, in fact, the only grant opportunity at my college that is open to all instructors, including even adjuncts like myself), with up to $2500 to redesign a class with open materials provided that the instructor is willing to CC license new materials created as a result of the grant, along with some other very proactive and positive requirements like that. Well, the requirements suited me perfectly... but I had to think for a while just what OER would mean in this context. 

And what I decided it would mean is this: the OU Library purchases these copyrighted resources for my students to use and puts them on Reserve. With $2500, I can purchase a MOUNTAIN of materials to have on Reserve, and if students are all CHOOSING every week what they want to read, that will work just fine: since everybody will be choosing different things to read, having the materials on Reserve is not a problem. My students are almost all resident students in Norman, and I absolutely love the idea that they might be visiting the Library every week for a "reading session" as part of the online course they are taking with me. IF they want to. I will also have plenty of public domain options for them to choose from, based on my original plan before the Library stepped in and opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me: comic books, audiobooks, ebooks, films...

So, that brings me back around again to the Lotus spreadsheet of 25 years ago: my challenge now is to find a way to help the students get the right books (or comic books! or ebooks! or audiobooks! or films!) in their hands each week so that they are able to spend appx. 3 hours reading (or listening or watching) in order to learn about the ancient stories so that they can then RETELL the stories in their own way, working with stories that really inspire them.

Now that it is July, I really have to pull myself out of the delightful process of searching for materials (both public domain and materials to purchase) and start organizing the experience I want my students to have. I've come up with a plan that I think will work really well, but for the purposes of this post, I want to just survey the amazing RANGE of stuff that I will now be able to offer my students:

BOOKSTORE BOOKS. Yes, the four paperback books will still be available for purchase (as always). I am very happy with those books and always have been ... the idea, though, is that now the students have so much more to choose from! 

PUBLIC DOMAIN BOOKS. I have prepared "public domains editions" of both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and I have also found over 60 free online public domain books the students can choose to read for class. Creating these public domain editions is such a thrill for me, and because I built them in a completely modular way, I will be able to keep improving them year after year after year. Inspired by Nina Paley (see below), I might also do some writing of my own to release into the public domain as she has done with her genius film, Sita Sings the Blues.

PUBLIC DOMAIN ARTWORK. Most of the students in this class have never heard of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata before (there might be a handful of students with Indian heritage in the class each semester, but only a few). Luckily, the beautiful Indian art tradition can pull students into the world of the epics so that the characters come to life. I've got a blog where I've been collecting images to go with the epics, and I am really excited now that students will have a chance to compare the traditional arts with modern illustrations in the comic books! To get a sense of the artwork, you can take a look at the blog — Indian Epics Images — and also at the Rama gif I made for this week: Re-Mediating Rama.

COMIC BOOKS. The Library also purchased the Amar Chitra Katha "Ultimate Collection" using the grant money, and of the 300+ comic books, over half of them are directly relevant to my classes. I'm busily writing Reading Guides for these comic books just as for the "normal" books, and I will be trying to help students explore this amazing resources by using this blog: Amar Chitra Katha.

GRAPHIC NOVELS. In addition to the Amar Chitra Katha comic books (what you might call comic book "classics" in India), I will also be able to purchase contemporary graphic novels which are... AMAZING. They will also be available on Reserve in the Library. I am focusing on the Ramayan 3392 A.D. series from Virgin Comics and the Indian mythology line from Campfire Comics by Kalyani publishers in India; it will be about a dozen different graphic novels. Students who are into these novels would be able to spend the entire second half of the semester just working with the graphic novels if they want... and I am guessing some students will want to do that. I love the Amar Chitra Katha comic books the best, but there is no denying the appeal of these ultra-modern graphic novels. 

Krishna, Campfire graphic novel

KINDLE BOOKS. I am personally a big fan of reading with the Kindle app on my Touch and/or in my browser, so I had accumulated a pretty huge collection of India-related Kindle books. Well, while exploring Library possibilities, I found out that the Library has some Kindles for Reserve check-out, but no other instructors were using them... so I decided to use a chunk of the grant money to purchase Kindle books! And what an amazing list of Kindle books it is! I am glad that the students can go to the Library to use the Kindles there for free and, in addition, this allows them to "test drive" a book and see if they want to buy a copy to read themselves. Because Kindle books can be read on virtually any mobile (with a Kindle app) or in a browser (at, it is a good ebook format for students, and the books are not expensive, especially if they can browse and read the book in the Library first.

AUDIOBOOKS. Given a choice, I prefer to listen to audiobooks rather than read a printed book. It takes more time, but I always get so much more out of listening to a book rather than reading it — in part because of that extra time. I base my reading assignments for the class on the ever-optimistic hope that students might choose to read to themselves out loud. Each week's worth of reading would be about three hours of reading out loud, and with audiobooks, the students can listen to someone read the book to them! There are a few public domain audiobooks at LibriVox which are relevant to this class, and I am also purchasing audiobooks to go on the Kindles in the Library. One of the nice things about Amazon and Audible's partnership is the steep discounting for audiobooks when someone perhaps a copy of the Kindle books. Here's a list of the audiobooks that I should be able to make available to the students, either free at LibriVox or free to check out on Reserve in the Library.

Jaya audiobook

FILMS. There are not a lot of English-language films that I can use, but two are really important, and I have them both now: Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues (public domain! free online! Nina is both a genius AND generous), and Peter Brook's Mahabharata. Admittedly, that film can often be found illegally on YouTube, but now the 5-hour version is available as a DVD checkout from the Library (no streaming media options were available, alas). Being able to make Brook's film accessible to students is a really big deal for me; it was watching that film on PBS back when it first came out that began my own personal adventure in the world of Indian storytelling. It's a quite expensive video (I was glad the Library was able to find a new copy for just $60), which is exactly why I need the Library to provide the chance for my students to watch it!

MUSIC. I repurposed my YouTube channel to focus on Indian music, and I will be able to include Indian music videos in the class announcements along with widgets in the blog sidebars so that students can choose to listen to Indian music if they want while they are doing the work for class.

So, doesn't that all sound spectacular? Of course, it is also overwhelming, so I am going to have to work very carefully in the next few weeks to set this up so that the students can enter the world of the epics gradually (Ramayana in Weeks 2-4 and Mahabharata in Weeks 5-7), and then build their own exploration plan for the second half of the semester based on their own preferences. It's one of the best challenges I can imagine as a teacher, and now that all the materials are more or less lined up, I can start thinking about the best way to help students find their own reading pathways...

And yes, I really hope that one of the main impressions they will take away from this class will be: there is so much MORE that I want to explore! 

So, a HUGE thank you again to Stacy Zemke and the OU Libraries for making this possible. I think this is going to be an incredible experience, and I am really excited to see what choices the students will make!

Laura Gibbs

Re-Mediating Rama

2 min read

For this week's prompt, I want to sing the praises of illustrations and the ways that images and text can work together. As I redesign my Indian Epics class this summer (huge task... and eeeeek, I am feeling so far behind!), images and illustrations are very much on my mind: so stimulating, so powerful, so diverse. And I also feel so lucky that the stories I teach in the epics class have been interpreted and re-interpreted, imagined and re-imagined, mediated and re-mediated, again and again and again, in thousands of ways over the thousands of years that the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata have been with us.

To get in the mood to write this post, I made an animated GIF of images of Rama, hero of the Ramayana, and below is a list of the sources I am drawing on. If I have time later today, I will write something up making images and re-imagining the old stories in my classes... but this is something for now anyway! Happy re-imagining, everybody!


Animated gif of Rama depictions.



Amar Chitra Katha: Valmiki's Ramayana.

Rama, carving from Angkor (Cambodia).

Rama statue, Chamunda Devi Temple

Ramayan 3392, art by Abhishek Singh.

Rama, painted cloth, circa 1800

Illustration by Evelyn Paul

Life in the forest, circa 1780.

Illustration by Warwick Goble

Rama, painting from 1816

Rama defeats Khara, Freer Ramayana (Mughal)

Still from Nina Paley's brilliant animated film, Sita Sings the Blues

Rama and Hanuman, circa 1820.

Illustration from the Mewar Ramayana.

Devotional status of Rama and Sita.

Sculpture of Rama and Sita

Rama and his sons, Lava and Kush, circa 1860.

Rama and Hanuman in a Ram Lila performance

Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Ravi Varma Press, circa 1910.

Sculpture of Rama and Shabari

Controversial image of Rama from the film Slumdog Millionaire.

Amar Chitra Katha: Tulsidas's Ramayana

Illustration by K. Venkatappa


Laura Gibbs

The Creative Routine

Great share from Rob Reynolds about teaching, learning, and SPONTANEITY.

Laura Gibbs

Pic to Twitter

1 min read

Trying pic to Twitter


Okay, that is not so great. Here is the result; I deleted the tweet. For pics, I will probably keep using Twitter, but I like the way I can do quick cross-post of blog post with title and link going to Twitter, but no pic display.

Laura Gibbs

Oh my gosh, proud of myself: I use API mumbo jumbo magic to connect my Known and Twitter! whoo-hoo!!!

Laura Gibbs

I finally remembered to try the Twitter app thing again. It worked (I think!) ... testing with Known now...! :-)