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Digital Story Critique: The Nerd’s Guide to Learning Everything Online by John Green

John Green is famous. He’s the heartthrob of every 12-16-year-old girl who read his books (and they do so over and over . . .). So why is he on TED talking about online learning strategies? Isn’t he supposed to be sequestered in his writing nook working on his next bestseller? This piqued my interest. Why does Mr. Green care about the digital world? I was looking for enlightenment and I was not disappointed. This popular young author has a lot to say about creating and connecting to our learning worlds.

Green begins his talk with a map that contained a town that didn’t exist. Old timey map makers would place these little nowhere towns on maps as copyright surety. If a future map maker happened to place the same town on their map, then they could be accused of copyright infringement. These towns are called, interestingly, Papertowns. Yes, the title of one of Mr. Green’s books. He goes on to point out a phenomenon: that after mapmakers place these fake towns on map, people tend to flock there and actually bring the towns into existence. From this observance he makes the key statement:

“The manner in which we map the world, changes the world.”

He continues the metaphor that how we map our lives, how we sketch out the journey we are on, changes and shapes the life we live. He goes on to apply this metaphor to his educational experience, which was pretty dismal until he attended a private boarding school in tenth grade.

Then everything changed for him.

Why? Because he was suddenly plunged into a community of learners. People around him liked to learn, liked to delve in and solve problems, so this influenced his thinking and behavior as a student. Later on after college and working Booklist, he found himself working as an author, but feeling “disconnected” from a learning community. He set about remedying this by plugging back in via the internet and the YouTube community. This is where I get excited. He describes three different resources in the online arena that he discovered and nerds like us love to use to learn. Here they are, including his site that is very popular:

Here is one of John Green’s Crash Course video on history:

Now for the critique on his presentation. For this critique I will use Jason Ohler’s assessment traits as a guideline. I will create an evaluation rubric that includes three of his recommendations cover the topic listed below. I chose these three particular topics simply because of the nature of Green’s talk. His goal was to share personal experiences with education and present to the audience ways in which to they too can “map out their learning territory” by connecting to online resources. Therefore, I focused on whether or not he was successful in accomplishing this goal.

Digital Story Evaluation: 10 pts each

Presentation and performance

How effective was the actual presentation or performance? This includes burning a DVD, posting the story on the Web site effectively, performing it before an audience, or whatever the assignment required.
At first his map analogy seemed a bit ethereal and the audience didn’t appear to “get it.” But as he went on and explained further then it all made more sense. For example, how significant is it that he created a “sandwich” with the US along with Ze Frank. Seemed a bit adolescent. But the point was the participation in a learning process.
Points 9
Flow, organizations and pacing

Was the story well organized? Did it flow well, moving from part to part without bumps or disorientation, as described in Part III?
Pacing and flow was excellent. Green broke up his presentation with anecdotes and media without glitches or uncomfortable pauses. Each part fit the whole well.
Points: 10
Media Application
Was the use of media appropriate, supportive of the story, balanced and well considered?
The media was appropriate. I felt his visuals could have gone into more depth/need more explanation. The Honey Boo Boo visual was too long to read and ponder. Most didn’t get it.
Points: 9

                                                                                                                                             Total Points: 28


This was a good presentation by Mr. Green. I especially appreciated his point that learning in a community is important and having that connection online was significant for him. This hearkens back to an article we are reading for INTE 5665 on connectivism as a learning model and Green describes closely the aspects of this behavior. The four YouTube examples he listed above are a good resource for teachers as well as avid nerds like myself who love to binge on historical facts and Physics trivia. I have to say that the talk did not seem entirely altruistic as so many TED talks are for the pure love of revelation, though. When Green’s video showed up in his presentation I could see that he was also advertising for Crash Course, the YouTube channel he is working with and promoting. This is okay; the drive behind it is to share his passion in the context of that promotion.

Overall a 28/30 for this talk and I recommend it!

One Comment

  • Lori Elliott says:

    Thanks for this review Lisa! As a literacy educator it is no surprise that I’m a fan of Jonathan Green. I appreciate the thoughtful and creative way you critiqued this piece – I will show it as an example in my screencast this week.

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