As I sit with my big cup of joe (Bugaboo from Kicking Horse Coffee Co. – if you care), I’m thinking back on my week. There were certainly times in the week where I was wondering what I’d signed up for and why I couldn’t just learn to say no, but the week was extremely positive all-round! What caused much of the stress was that I presented at a conference yesterday on two topics that I’d not presented on before. I did a two-hour session on Personal Learning Environments and another with two co-conspirators (Jessica Levitt and Christina Cuk) entitled Effective Collaboration in the Learning Commons. Both of these subjects are near and dear to my heart and anybody who has the misfortune to come within less than a few meters of me has heard me pontificate on both at one time or another (and likely repeatedly). But putting together formal presentations is different than standing around and shooting the kah-kah.
I’m also deeply embedded in my PLE Project and if you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know what that’s about. I’ve had some conversations with students this week that are really helping me to understand more about the truth behind their interactions online and their understanding of the power of the web.
Here are four lessons that I’ve learned through the week, in no particular order.
Adults aren’t the only ones to find sharing online difficult
We assume that because they grew up in a digital world (and most of us didn’t) that our students know everything there is to know about social media and are completely comfortable in that space. There’s no end of literature telling us how inadequate us adults really are. I had a long talk with one student about his “rule” to never share anything online. His reasoning was that if he didn’t exist, nothing bad could happen to him. This is the kind of thinking that we often attribute to adults. We talked about what that meant and the concept of developing a positive digital footprint. I’m less convinced of the concept of digital natives than ever before and know that we, as teachers, have a responsibility to live in that space and be able to at least have these conversations with them. None of us have all the answers, but the discussions that we can have will help students and teachers alike to reflect on and become more thoughtful and powerful users of these networks.
You learn by teaching
OK, I’ve known this for a long time. But it is amazing how often I need to be reminded. I got completely caught up in sharing my knowledge with others and forgot at times that I agreed to present on the topics that I did, because I wanted to refine my thinking on them. Apologies to anyone who attended my sessions, but I was there for purely selfish reasons. I knew that by presenting I would be forced to research further and clarify my thinking so that I could share and have informed discussions.
The parallel to this was the discussion with the participants in my PLE session. We talked about what one should write on a blog and the concept of trying to satisfy an audience. The reality is that you (or at least I) write on a blog to clarify our own thinking. It is a reflective process that helps us to think through things. Anyone who has ever taught any performance art (and I assume that PE is the same) knows that the concert is simply the motivational carrot (or stick) to get the students to learn. The powerful educational moments happen far more often in the rehearsal room, long before the performance. Writing a blog or presenting a session is exactly the same. The countless hours of reading, talking and commenting on others’ blogs are where the knowledge really starts to come together. The writing of the post or the presentation at a conference is simply the capping piece that helps to bring together all that one has learned. It is the act of teaching, in whatever form, that is the motivation for the learning.
I’m not the only one who starts off thinking that Twitter is stupid
I had fun introducing students to Twitter this week. When I told them that this was the next piece to the PLE toolset, many of them looked at me like I’d just been beamed down from the mother-ship. Most thought of Twitter as some highly ineffective waste of time that really wasn’t any better than their status bar on Facebook. And if they already had a Facebook account, then why on God’s Green Earth would they need a Twitter account. It was this line in an email that made my week: “I see what you mean about Twitter now. My page is an ocean of information, almost like the front page of the Globe and Mail, just tailored to my interests.” Maybe it was only one student, but he started to discover the power of the tool and a light went off in a big way. I think that once folks realize that Twitter is a community of people brought together, in a thoughtful way, by common interests, they start to see the power of their community. It was refreshing though, to know that my journey into to Twitter is shared by many others. I had a two year span between the creation of my first Twitter account and the actual use of it, because I didn’t see the power of it either.
All in all, a great week. Time to get a second cup and plan next week!