Hear More

Yesterday, Stephen Hurley posted a reply to the post that I made about a recent professional learning event.  In conclusion, he had indicated that he wanted to hear more.

"Sounds like a pretty rich experience! I’m very intersted in learning about the faction of participants to th wide variety of tools available to them. Was ther any discussion/realization that changes to their teaching approach may be necessary? Would love to hear more!"

That’s gold to a blogger like me.  First, someone actually read a post and commented!  Secondly, he wants to hear more.  So, here’s more.

In particular, I focussed on the "discussion" part and I was reflecting upon various opportunities that are available to teachers for professional learning.  Over the years, I’ve taken part in many as both a participant and as a facilitator.  There are some that work well and others not so much.  These were rolling around in my mind all day and I’m going to use Stephen’s prod as a way to try and collect my thoughts.

First, professional learning when using technology is considerably different than most.  There is the learning that must happen, of course, but there are so many other things that have to fall into place in order to make this learning successful.  If you’re doing something on the internet, the internet must cooperate.  If you’re working with a piece of software, it must be installed successfully and working.  Then, of course, there’s the different versions of the software.  The latest version typically has more functionality but it can have all the functionality in the world and it’s useless if the participant is working with an older version!  In education, we have so many variables…there’s usually a big difference between the technology in use at schools versus what’s in use at home.  Throw in computers with i7 processors versus Pentium 2s, Macintosh versus Windows, Netbooks versus laptops versus desktops versus virtual environments and it’s almost an impossible battle at times.  Even something as simple as clicking on a submit button can be difficult if it’s not up front and visible but requires some additional scrolling or navigation on a different sized screen.  Throw in different skillsets from the learners and – oh my!

There are a number of different ways that the professional learning environment can be structured and I’d like to touch on some that come to mind.

Attribution Some rights reserved by One Laptop per Child

I think that the least useful method is one that you’ll see people spending hours and hours developing.  In fact, the term "training" is often used instead of learning!  I had a superintendent once who called using it with students "barking at the screen".  It’s the concept that you can sit back and watch a video on your computer screen and somehow learn all that you need, in your context.  It’s almost laughable when you think about it.  It’s not devoted to the end users’ learning; it’s devoted to the fact that someone is showing what they can do and are making the assumption that you’ll somehow acquire the skills by watching them.  In fact, the only thing that honours the learner is the ability to move the scrubber bar on the video back to replay the video!  So, is it completely useless?  No, but if everyone has the same layout to their desktop and you’re working with a rudimentary "click here and this happens" approach, it’s an efficient way of saying that you’ve got it covered!  Consider that there typically is no mechanism for feedback and that there’s no room for guided individualization in the process.  I will, however, turn to this myself if it’s well designed with the learner in mind.  For me, that means short 30-45 second snippets to perform one particular task.  If there’s an activity that best shows off the power of Web 1.0, this is it.

The appeal though is the ability to do it once, publish, and potentially reach a big body of people.  Move up a bit and we come to the world of blogs and MOOCs.  This excites me much more because it introduces the concepts of discussion.  No more is the learning just one way.  The ability to comment and ask questions and interact with the author or other contributors opens a discussion.  Even a comment like "it doesn’t do that here" is an invitation for further discussion and clarification.  Well crafted blog tutorials will include screen captures and sometimes the important area is highlighted with a spotlight or an arrow so that the learner can zero in on the topic at hand.  Participatory learning is powerful.

As we move up the functionality chain, the big difference is the ability to have a discussion about the learning.  When all is said and done, we need to remember that we’re human and social by nature.  For me, that means having a conversation as the initial learning takes place.  Questions are immediately addressed and feedback comes back immediately.  This is the way that we’ve always learning and you know what?  It works.  I used to offer 2-3 workshops a week in the very attractive 4-6pm timeslot!  In this case, the focus of the learning was cut back to manageable chunks.  I had a discussion with some friends once and we agreed that attending one session was only helpful if you were looking for that elusive one skill you’re missing.  Where it was particularly helpful was with repeated attendance so that you could develop a continuum of learnings.  Learners and facilitators both function better when questions can be posed as they are needed.  The most useful sessions involve learners bringing their own computer so that they can learn in their own reality.

It’s the variations of this that I’ve been involved with over the past year that particularly intrigue me at present.  The word "social" just keeps resonating as I think about these. 

In the case of the recent OTF event or the CATC Camp event, there were two components that are so valuable.  First, you’re removed from your daily routine and plunked into an environment devoted to learning.  Secondly, in both cases, there were computer skills share, to be sure, but there was also the conversations to make things so much richer and relevant.  I can’t count the number of times that a discussion started with "In my class, I want to …".  The task then escalates from simple skill acquisition to a sophisticated approach to implementation.  Unlike the static learning that comes from simply watching a video, our discussions wandered into the kindergarten or Grade 9 Science classroom as the learning became customized.  In both cases, three days of continuous learning allowed for the construction of a meaningful project that was user driven and not some activity contrived to show some particular thing.  CATC Camp showed off an even more unique extension because the teachers come from the same geographic area.  There was a group that promised each other to get together just by themselves to extend their learning.  Wow.

The Minds on Media is the ultimate coaching format.  It’s learner driven as it’s truly the learner who knows where the gaps in understanding exist.  You can’t beat a discussion that starts when someone sits beside you and says "I want to learn" or "I want to learn more about".  The premise is as simple as that but there’s no limit to where you can take it.

There is an element to the better environments that puts it over the top.  Sure, there are discussions about "how do I embed this" but we went far beyond that.  Questions like:

  • how do I assess this?
  • can I exchange files in a different format using this?
  • can I involve parents in the learning – can they see their child’s work? can they check homework? if they have some skills and knowledge, can they comment?
  • can I use this for groupwork?  how do I keep one group from another’s work?
  • what happens when things go wrong?  how do I fix unfortunate things?
  • hey, I could use this for class calendars! hey, I could use this for class newsletters! hey, I could go paperless!

Paperless is big!

Anyway, Stephen, there’s my current thinking.  Thoughts?

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OTR Links for 08/21/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.