Reflections on Learning
I got an Ironman watch for Christmas a couple of years ago and have proceeded to lose the watch a few times. Lose is a loose term here, because mostly it has been my toddler son who finds my watch fascinating and then puts it in strange places. Once, for about a month, the watch was in the house somewhere. I knew this because every morning at 6:45 am the alarm on my watch would go off, but I was never quick enough to find it before I lost the signal. I eventually found it inside a container of Elmo dominoes. Last month I was reorganizing the garage and found it tied to a kid’s set of golf clubs. Don’t know how that happened, but I was happy to have it back.
Time is this constant, and I know this because each time I’ve “lost” my watch, when I find it, it is still keeping the proper time. Perhaps daily savings time has been implemented and I need to make a slight alteration, but for the most part things are pretty much unchanged in my relationship between my watch and I the time while we were apart.
But what if that wasn’t the case. What if while I was away, my watch decided to start telling time differently? A bit far-fetched I suppose, but what if? What if by some cosmic force time had been altered and I didn’t know about it, but my watch did? How would I react or adjust to this? Would I simply tell my watch to go back to its old way of keeping time or would I adjust to the new?
For me, the Internet is a real-life version of this far-fetched scenario. And if it feels like this to me, how does it feel to someone who isn’t immersed in its use? I can’t imagine. In a lot of ways we teachers are assembly line workers who like to break things down into manageable patterns. Sure we add a few different tricks every once in a while, but when we find something that works, we like to stick to it. How else to you account for PowerPoint being so pervasive and simultaneously so useless?
In so many ways, I feel like the Internet has shifted spaces on me since the beginning of this course. Nowhere is this more apparent for me then with blogging and RSS feeds. It’s like I put them in a special place so that I knew just where my information would always be, but when I went to get them, they had moved. Not physically, but fundamentally.
The Personal Level
There are definitely multiple levels to my learning about blogs and RSS feeds during the course of this course. I had some experience with these things before the course and used them, but only slightly and only for personal interests. In that way, I have a tremendous amount of thanks to this course for expanding my list of sources and resources.
The most significant change for me is that this course has fundamentally changed how I use Google. Where most people I know see a typical, rather white, Google search page, mine now looks like this:
Perhaps not a huge change for some, but I think it goes back to the notion that Phil McRae researched about – the way the web self organizes. Previously, so much of this information for me was all over the place – in my browser history, in my favourites – with passwords to remember and sites to remember. Now things are compiled. Between my “iGoogle” page, my blog, my Delicious tags and Twitter, most of what I need or am interested in can be managed in about 4 tabs.
For me this means that my approach to learning and to the Internet has become so much more organized and simplified. Whereas before I would have had about “30 clicks” to make to get up-to-speed on things, it’s done in 3-5. Rather than me going out and finding the information I want, the information is coming to me. This is something repeated by Will Richardson over and over in his writing, and something I didn’t really comprehend until I lived the experience.
The Professional Level
At the professional level as I started to follow more and more educational blogs, I probably became more and more annoying to my colleagues at school and in my district. I was constantly sharing links about interesting articles from the Blue Skunk blog or weblogg-ed or some other blog. I was/am constantly being asked where I was finding this stuff, which in and of itself has been a great way to spread some knowledge (showing others how to develop their feeds, etc.). Now teachers within my school are starting to use some of the tools I’ve become familiar with and reciprocate the sharing. I don’t think I could have asked for more in terms of professional development and application to my work setting.
The biggest question for me at the professional level is not how we can use other people’s blogs as resources, but rather how can we use blogging ourselves as a resource? I look at my blog and wonder if staff members would find any use in it. I’ve shown it to a couple of staff members, but haven’t truly “shared” it yet. I’m inclined to do so, if only to get feedback, but I’d like to let it evolve a bit more.
Blogging for PD to me means that you need to build some sort of community where people are reading your thoughts, commenting on your work and sharing back. I don’t think I’m really part of this world yet. I’m one of the people reading other people’s blogs and comment, but I’m not a blogger – yet..
Our conversations this week in our discussion group are directly related to the overall concept of blogging. The idea of voice applies to both us as educators and to students as well. Blogs in the classroom can be a great way of creating community, a way for students to establish or find their voice, a way for those that might not have the confidence to speak up to perhaps share some ideas.
Will the average educator engage in this? I think if I took a survey of this right now, the teachers on my staff would laugh at me – and they are relatively progressive thinkers! The demands being put on teacher that are “lumped” into the area of technology (IPPs, SIRS, teacher logic, homework updates on website, etc.) could make something like this feel like another add on. Sure there would be some who try, but I would expect resistance.
The challenging part then is implementing this with students when teachers don’t necessarily understand the concept. The benefits are obvious (I’ve listed some of these above) but there are challenges as well. Access is a definite issue as is deciding how these will be assessed. Ultimately having been through this process, I would suggest to any educator that they are going to need experience with the tool first in order to understand how to apply it in the classroom in a meaningful way.
Back to my original metaphor about “time” and wondering what would happen if “time” changed? Here’s a look at a screen shot of my Google reader account:
I’ve subscribed to about 20 or so blogs. The one’s we were asked to subscribe to, my classmates, some personal interest ones and some others that I stumbled across during the course. I definitely subscribed to more/most of these in September and early October as we got into the course. I found the articles interesting (of course) and daily would log in to my Google reader account to check things out. Then things began to change for me – time moved for me, so to speak.
Perhaps because there is only so much time in the day or only so much room in my brain, or because one simply can’t be using all of these tools all of the time, my patterns began to shift. As I built my iGoogle account (see first screen shot) my usage of Google reader diminished. While Google reader was still obviously running in the background to feed my iGoogle page, I stopped visiting Google reader regularly. Now the info I wanted or used from the blogs was coming at me through both my iGoogle account as well as linked directly to my own blog. This was a fundamental shift for me, but it was nothing compared to what Twitter did to my usage patterns.
As I began using Twitter, my feeds were now coming at me directly and live in a lot of ways “previewed”. Someone like @courasa or @mastermaq would retweet something from Scott McLeod or Ross Todd and I could immediately follow that link. So not only was it immediate, I had along with it a 140 character or less review of the new blog posting:
As you can see, within a 10 minute span I received two really interesting links from Joyce Valenza. Multiple this by the number of people I’m following and I have more than enough information to sift through.
The difficult aspect of this is the randomness of it all. Interspersed amongst the good information is someone telling me what the sunset is like, or what they are eating for dinner. I don’t necessarily have this problem when I’m only reading blogs and not the minutia leading me to the blogs.
With that in mind, my reading for this portion of the course turn from investigating blogs and RSS feeds, to wondering about the future of these applications and how change was going to affect them. I wondered what would happen if teachers spent months learning and integrating a new tool (new to them at least) like Google reader into their classroom only to have it become obsolete before they really got into it. I know one of the librarians in our district lamented to me recently that she teaches an information processing course and can’t get the students to email in their assignments. I told her that students don’t use email and she couldn’t believe that, nor could she believe that she had invested considerable time designing a course that appealed to 21st Century learners, only to find that she was still a year and half behind!
Simon Mackie of Web Worker Daily says, “Personally, I still think that RSS readers are useful, but I know that I don’t check mine as religiously as I used to (maybe just once per day in the morning), as I know that I’ll discover anything really important through Twitter.”
Dawn Foster found much the same thing. That “people working in the technology industry who once used RSS readers but had mostly abandoned them in favor of using Twitter to find news and interesting blog posts.”
And here Robert Scoble provides his top 8 reasons why he don’t use Google reader anymore.
Each of these are interesting points and support the same type of feeling I was having around RSS readers and finding information. The difficulty right now I think is that RSS Readers allow a level of organization that Twitter does not. RSS readers provide a much better interface for returning to interesting content. As Twitter develops its “list” function this may change, but for now I know I can count on Google reader being more organized compared to Twitter’s randomness. However, if I subscribe to the notion that the web is a self-organizing place, I have to believe that at some point these tools will ultimately integrate themselves into one another in a way that will be helpful to me.
So, like my misplaced watch, RSS feeds started in one place for me and ended up in another. This will be a challenge for teachers, teacher-librarians and administrators as the pressure to use technology meets the reality of that same technology changing on us even as we are using the tool.
Davies, J. & Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation. New York, NY: Lang Publishing.
McRae, P. (2007). Interculture collaborative inquiry on the Internet: Epistemological humility in a global era. University of Alberta.
Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.