I Used to Use Paper

It’s kind of difficult to think about or even remember the good ‘ol’ days.  There was a time when you would attend a workshop or a presentation from me and you’d walk away with a paper handout from the session.  Depending upon the topic and my level of preparedness and enthusiasm, it could actually be a pretty significant chunk of trees that would be used for this purpose.

It sure wouldn’t have worked yesterday.

I’m in Hamilton co-presenting at an Ontario Teachers’ Federation session with partner @kellmoor and the topic this time around is about using Wikis and other collaboration tools in the classroom.  We’ve been preparing for this session for quite a while and we could have written the Great Canadian Novel if we had put our content into words on paper and gone the traditional handout route.

And, traditionally, it might have worked.   But, in these electronic times, the key word is flexibility.  Our plan was to focus on intense hands-on activities, constructing the knowing and abilities as we went.  But, we were in someone else’s house and didn’t have total control over our environment.  There was no show stopper event and terrific people from the OTF and the McMaster IT Department got us moved and connected and running and happily learning.  And yet, if we had a paper presentation or agenda, we would have had folks circling this and moving this around and down here and …  You get the drill.

But, since it’s electronic, it’s not a problem.  We just jump to the appropriate session and things did flow together nicely.  We covered much of what we wanted to do, just in a different order.  At dinner last night, the two of us were planning and scheming about a changed Day 2 and Day 3.  It may well be better than the original plan.

In a paper world, I could just vision us running around looking for an all-night duplicating store with lots of supplies so that we could revise the day.  Instead, we’re back in our rooms co-editing the affected parts of the day from our course wiki.  Collaboration and planning like it’s supposed to be.  I woke up with another idea and hopped in to add it and noted that Kelly and I were not alone on this entity.  One of our campers had already been in throwing in her two cents and the time stamp was somewhere around 4:00am.  How cool is that?

Spring forward and I’m watching the morning Twitter stream come through and seeing people bemoaning that a particular collaboration tool was blocked at their school district based upon a room that said that the site was a chat site.  Now, this wasn’t your regular chat-define resource-it was a site where you could collaborate on a document and chat about it on the sidebar with your collaborator.  It’s so weird to think about the context of our presentation which is all about openness and collaboration juxtaposed against this.

Last night, I read this article entitled Revolution Needed for Teaching Literacy in a Digital Ageand maybe there is a great deal to be learned from this.  While articles like this seem to reach the sensational, the reality is that a lot of things that are happening are just tinkering with the status quo.  I think about a discussion that I had once that included the line “I tried group work once and it didn’t work.  The students couldn’t handle it so we went back to the old way.”  How’s that for a great attempt at meeting students at least half way?

The reality is that students are using these tools and admittedly at different levels of proficiency and expertise.  But, banning them altogether gets us nothing but frustration.  Only when it becomes the way that we do business does it kick in and become effective, scaffolding, motivating, and engaging for all.  Otherwise, it’s back to the paper and drawing lines to move topics around on the sheet of paper where the agenda is king, not the learning.

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