In Search of a Metaphor

I thought of many angles for this final blog:

1. I was going to use the metaphor of the television show “Law & Order”. For those that have watched it, you know that the show is very much story driven and while you know the characters, you don’t really “know” them. In any given episode information might be given away about one of the main characters that allows the ever constant viewer to better understand the motives of that character. In episode X, we learn that one of the detectives has an ex-wife and suddenly we understand a bit more about that character. Not a lot, but a bit more. In a lot of ways, I thought that this might be a great metaphor for this course or for web 2.0 in general. In the course we learn snippets of things, but given the timeline, we can never “go deep”, our superficial knowledge allows us something, but never quite enough. Same goes for the social web in general, sure I can follow Lee Kolbert (@teachakidd) and know that she got shin splints last week. The main part of the story is that she has some great ideas about teaching kids, the extra info just helps to paint a better picture of her.
2. I considered too the idea of only pulling resources from this week’s blog from twitter. That I would jump in my canoe so to speak and ride the river that is twitter and see where it would lead me. Documenting this trip would form the basis of the blog entry and serve as a kind of metaphor for where this social networking thing was headed. I thought too, that because things are changing so quickly (see my last blog entry) it’s hard to consider using the U of A database for this kind of research because by the time it’s posted, things have already changed so dramatically.
3. Another angle came from watching my five year old nephew surf his mom’s iPhone. Without hesitation, he picked it up, pressed some buttons and was in an app store looking at games he could download for the phone. This whole notion of risk taking for him is like speaking a different language. From his point of view there’s no risk in trying. And sure, he’s going to mess up, and mom is going to freak out that he downloaded $50 worth of games, but he’s not going to learn about risks until an adult tells him about it. Maybe the problem is that we just need to structure the learning environment a bit better.
4. Finally, I thought I’d do this whole comparison between the buzz-terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” and how some of us easily fit into one of these categories (if you are over 30 years old, most likely the latter) but that some of us have a foot in each of these worlds. I was an undergrad in the early-to-mid 90’s as the Internet really began to take hold. So in lots of ways, I was in at the ground level, learning about PING and FTP, upgrading to my 14.4 modem, downloading my email with Eudora and thinking I was pretty incredible by being able to network two computers to play head-to-head DOOM. However, as the iterations of the internet rolled out (reference here) I fell further and further behind. In the world of web 2.0, I am indeed a digital immigrant. My knowledge and/or experience with web 1.0 probably has made me less afraid of exploring or trying things out for this course, but in lots of ways I know very little about the web 2.0 world because I am not “native to it. At the same time, while I can say I’m not afraid to try things, I think my age/experience/positon has some impact on restricting me from trying some things (see my blog entry on facebook).

So with all of this in mind, I don’t know that I’ve actually chosen any one metaphor to organize my thinking here. Do know that these are the kinds of thoughts running in the back of my mind as I work my way through this reflection.

Highlights of My Learning
The highlight of my learning was probably getting to share some of these new ideas with both my staff and with some of the 4th year ed students at our college. By no means am I an expert, but trying some of these tools and having my staff see me try them, has inspired some to experiment with some of the tools. If anything, that notion of being a bit of a risk-taker and chucking it aside has been a highlight for me. I’ve probably clicked on more things and more buttons than I ever would have in the past, afraid that something nasty would happen to my computer. And while I did have to get my computer re-imaged once during this course (not necessarily blaming it on the course!) in the end, I think the risk taking was well worth it.

As I’ve said before, through this course I have discovered some very key tools for me: iGoogle, Twitter, Voicethread and my blog have all become tools that I’ve started to use regularly and tools that I’ve become a bit evangelical about!

Lowlights of My Learning
For me, this is probably facebook. I get the appeal, I get how people use it as a communication tool with their friends and family, I get all of that. However, I think I put my canoe in the water too late on this one. I don’t have many friends that use facebook, and my wife takes care of most of the family photo-sharing etc. I would bet money that if I had jumped into this sooner, when things were first taking off, I would be a better user of this tool. My guess is that I will likely delete my account or let it stagnate after the course.

Future Plans
One of the pillars of my school is “meaningful, integrated technology." As a staff we fundamentally believe that you don’t “do computers” for the sake of doing computers. That in the real world, the computer, or software is a tool that can be used to enhance learning and to help students to construct new meaning. So when I look at a tool like Voicethread, I think about the practical and meaningful ways in which student assessement (both summative and more importantly formative) could really be enhanced.

Even though a lot of my learning in this course has focused on me as a learner and how I might apply things to my school, I want my next step to focus on researching how students can be using these tools to enhance their learning and our school at the same time. Instead of me blogging (although I’m not throwing that notion out) I’d like to see their book reviews posted on our site, or photos that they’ve taken or glogs (NB – another thing I’d like to explore) they’ve created linked from our site. In the end it will be the students who drive this bus (canoe?) it’s simply a matter of how much latitude we are willing to give them.

Tools to Share
I was at a CASS meeting last week in Calgary and roomed with my superintendent. We were talking about learning and professional development and I told him how surprised I was at how valuable I found Twitter to be. I told him that he needed to give it a try and that I could provide some suggestions to him as to who to start following. He was surprised by this, as are most people, because the tool – on the surface – looks to be at best a mildly entertaining distraction. If I knew that staff would follow it regularly, I would create a list for my staff and provide links (mostly through re-tweeting) but it would certainly provide them with valuable ideas.

More importantly than any specific tool though, is that I want to encourage teachers to explore and try new things. I want them to do some of the reading that shows that while we know what the pitfalls are around online learning, do we really understand the benefits. Check out the link below to the BBC article this week that shows, rather surprisingly, how much students are reading and writing and how much they feel they are improving through blogging or reading other people’s blogs.

As a member of our district’s technology learning committee, we’ve pushed for the IT people in our district to at least experiment with some ideas. I’m happy to say that because of some of this lobbying, next semester in one of our high school physics classes, students will be able to bring their own electronic devices to log on to the network and participate in a course that will combine “live” teaching with some aspects of Moodle.

Learning from Others
Without getting too specific, there are really three things that I learned from others in this course. The first and most important came from the reflective dialogue in our discussion groups. I’m a huge advocate for teachers getting into other teacher’s classrooms. Watching them teach, figuring out what makes them effective. However, this is only the first part of the process. The most important part comes afterwards when those same teachers have the chance to sit down and engage in meaningful reflective dialogue. Why did they choose to ignore a behaviour, weren’t they worried about not covering something, didn’t they…? It was great to have this discussion venue that allowed us to engage in this kind of dialogue that I think truly moved our understanding forward and was something that simply couldn’t be gleaned from reading one another’s posts.

Secondly, I think the “linkage” that people provided was crucial to my learning. Whether that was a link to a website in a blog post to a citation for a book, my colleagues in this coursed shared with me many great resources.

Courage is the last thing I learned. Each of us shared or at least alluded to the apprehensions or intimidation factors we felt going into this course and yet each week I’d learn a new skill from someone’s posting on the discussion board or in their blog. Want to figure out how to do a screen capture? Just visit someone’s blog and someone has tried it (thanks to Jackie for referencing! Again I think about what this would be like in a classroom setting where students are learning from other students, through playing and experimenting. Being able to create that kind of learning environment is what I want to be able to do.

The Whole Picture
I’d like to tie this up by connecting three things. The first comes from the Davies and Merchant text. They provide this little vignette near the start of the text that talks about riding on a train and seeing all of the different ways that people are using literacy and language. From reading newspapers to listening to iPods, the point is that our concept and definition(s) of language and literacy have changed over time and that we cannot simply say that one is better than another.

This is supported by the recent BBC article that surveyed over 3000 nine to sixteen year olds and found that those that blogged rated themselves as significantly better writers when compared to those who did not engage in blogging or social networking.

All of this I want to contrast with the epilogue of Will Richardson’s text. He paints this picture of fictional teacher “Tom McHale” engaging seamlessly in a web 2.0 world. Mr. McHale does so in a manner that makes his life much simpler and his teaching much better. Life is good for him and it is implied that life is better for everyone around him (parents, students, colleagues) because of Tom’s skill.

It is this final kind of thinking that I think we have to be really careful about. I don’t think it was Will Richardson’s intent, but I think this kind of narrative is exactly the kind of thing that intimidates and pushes teachers away from technology. They read this and think, “there’s no way I can do that.” And in some ways they are probably correct. Learning these tools and trying to make this all feel “seamless” is a lot of work. Ask anyone taking this course! (As a funny, yet sad aside, my 4 yr. old daughter told my mom that “daddy didn’t help set up the Christmas tree, he just does computer.”)

We know it is valuable but we have to be careful to not paint it as a panacea. Reflective dialogue is essential for educators so that we consider why we make the choices we make. This is where I would begin to connect these questions to more philosophical considerations like those of Posner (I knew that History of Curriculum course would com in handy!). Where does all of this fit into the official, operational, hidden and null curriculum? If we use technology for technology’s sake are we engaging in some sort of hidden curriculum and simply using technology, as Donald Normans says, as a means of conforming learners?

Rogers suggests five stages of the diffusion of learning that educators may want to consider. The first is knowledge and he suggests that here we know the technology exists but we likely don’t use it, in fact are prone to not use it. This turns to the persuasion stage (perhaps where those around me are at) where they start to emulate others who have begun adopting the technology. Their use of the technology at this point is very simple and designed to support the official curriculum they are teaching. This moves through a decision stage where teachers decide to accept or reject the innovation followed by an implementation stage where they begin to use the innovation in more creative and relevant ways. Finally, the confirmation stage has teachers seeking out others to collaborate with and improve their teaching.

Each of these points represents a philosophical jumping off point for us. We clearly know where many of the technophiles we have followed this semester stand. Each of us has a better understanding of how these tools can be used to impact the classroom positively and now each of us faces the challenge of sharing this with others. It will be crucial that we understand both philosophically and pedagogically where we stand.

References & Linkage

Davies, J. & Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation. New York, NY: Lang Publishing.

Goddard, M. (2002). What do we do with these computers? Reflections on technology in the classroom. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 35(1). ProQuest Education Journals.

Norman, D.A. (1993). Things that make us smart. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Posner, G.J. (1995). Analyzing the curriculum. New York: McGraw Hill.

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Rogers, E.M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.