Obviously, I’ve been taking a bit of a blogging break of late. And while I’m not feeling like I’m totally back at it yet, I have found myself doing some reading, getting back into Twitter, and connecting some dots in my brain. Without question, these last six weeks have been mind-numbing…way too many presentations in way too many cities to have much left in the tank at the end of the day to read or write. And I don’t cross the finish line for another few weeks, a point at which I’m sure I’ll simply hibernate for a few days to catch up with everything.
What’s been interesting with this day after day presenting is how my thinking about this message has been tweaked and how certain parts of it have floated to the top. If nothing else, Twitter has made plain the power of the network, and that network has become the focal point of almost all my presentations. (Thanks, btw, to all of you who have answered spur of the moment requests in Twitter or with Skype or others to help me demonstrate the potential of the network. Much appreciated.) It’s not about teaching or classrooms or even kids…it’s simply about learning, about how we can learn, about how we do learn when we are connected. And, most importantly, it’s about how we need to understand what’s happening in our personal learning networks in order to make sense of what the potentials are, at some point, for our classrooms. Nothing really new here, I know. But just a deepening in my own understanding that is pushing me further.
Of course, the network has been helping this. Stephen’s recent posts “How the Net Works” and “The Personal Learning Effect” have been greatly instructive and have caused me to re-evaluate important parts of my practice. The more I consider it, the more I find myself moving away from a frame of social networking towards one of networked learning (which is obviously social by nature). More toward the literacies of networked learning. I find myself reflecting really deeply of late about how we build these connections, how we manage them, how we leverage them.
And that’s fueling my main frustration right now which is how hard it is to get the educators I speak with to be selfish about these ideas and not run toward classroom implementation of tools. I understand why it happens. Part of it is the “drive by” nature of much of my work, something that I’ve begun to shift away from. (More about that at some point.) And, even more, it’s because of the very little emphasis that districts in general put on supporting the personal learning of teachers. It’s all about student results and assessments, and it’s very difficult to look at these opportunities outside of that frame. Invariably, when the questions start, it’s all about how to keep kids safe or how to satisfy the IT people that we should do this or…you get the idea. I wish the questions after my sessions were more about how to cultivate trusted nodes, or strategies for creating connections outside of physical space.
At some point, I want one of the goals and outcomes for the students at my kids’ school system to be that they will graduate with the ability to build their own learning networks in effective, ethical and safe ways. But that will only happen when enough of the administrators and teachers understand that for themselves. Only then will they be able to help my kids add dots to their world maps in ways that teach them the power of networks in the ways we already know it.
Diane Quirk says
In listening to you yesterday and thinking about the way you approach this, it seems that you view personal learning networks as a system. You understand the purpose of that system for you, and you understand the function of each part of that system. So, you know, for instance, when it makes the most sense to turn to Twitter and how that tool functions in your learning network or when it makes more sense to make use of UStream and how that piece functions in relation to maintaining your network. You also understand how the parts of your system affect each other and what happens when some part of that system doesn’t function in the way that you need. The challenge then, is not to simply present the system and how it works for you (and many times overwhelming the audience with information) but to help the audience hypothesize how the system might function for them within their own learning and how the connections they make are affected by any change to that system. If we are to understand how learning is affected by technology then we need to apply learning, thinking and instructional strategies to our professional development efforts as well. Information does stay with us or make an impact on our practice without the opportunity to process it and apply some higher level thinking skills to that information.
Pat Aroune says
Will – I truly believe that you and many of your audience are way ahead of the curve on this one. I sat down with an administrator today and discussed something similar in thought, and came to a conclusion that many teachers, unfamiliar with the networked learning your discussing, need to be feed the fish (concrete examples that can be applied in the classroom), before they can learn themselves how to fish. I agree with Diane that it becomes difficult for educators to develop pedagogical practices when many are not familiar enough with the transformative nature technology has on an individual’s learning experience. Many educators I deal with see technology as a tool, an aid, rather than the accelerate to an individual’s learning. How about a cultural re-engineering of public education’s staff development, with a portion of the resources focused on teacher academies. Furthermore, wouldn’t it be reasonable to create the academic expectations in the post-secondary level. Will, love your thoughts, glad to be back reading your blog.
John Howell says
I hear ya’ brotha! I have “seen the light” after completely immersing myself in the madness of everything Web 2.0. At this point, it has consumed me and as an educator and father of three, I feel that I first must be a 21st Century Learner before I can be an effective 21st Century Teacher/Facilitator. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly enjoying this ride however I do feel like an evangelist at times not only at school but in my home as well. Unfortunately, not everyone responds favorably to the crazy man preachin’ ’bout the power of the mighty Read/Write Web. At this point, there really is no turning back for me, I have come to far in my personal learning journey and truly look forward to building a network at some level. Your words and passion is much needed and as Stephen Stills says, “Keep on Keeping On.”
Dan McDowell says
Unfortunately, the theoretical vision of education you and many others share – including myself – does not mesh well with traditional education and traditional educational institutions. You may see pockets of School 2.0 out there utilizing it to its potential, but that is all we are going to see. I’m a pessimist I know, but there are so many barriers. It would be nice to be able to tell someone to tear down that wall – but that wall is actually thousands, if not millions of small walls. I personally have led workshops and seminars to over 250 teachers (25%) in my district about the merits of Web 2.0 and specific ways to build learning networks with their students and each others using blogs, wikis, Moodle, etc. – and they still get lost in the details. A few dozen may have continued on with it – but the rest get caught up, you know, teaching kids. Calling parents. Grading essays. Worrying about standards. Getting computers that work. Stuff they can touch and feel. Despite my pessimism I continue the good fight, I continue to share the new tools and promote the necessity of a shift, trying to instill a grassroots sense of duty – they have to do it! I try to get one convert at a time, but I have a hard time envisioning that world where all schools make that transformation. At least not yet – in the end Will, you are ahead of your times. Thanks for helping create the vision, I and others need that, but the vision right now is too far away from the reality. It’s all in the details, which are too complex for too many teachers.
Corrie Bergeron says
Amen, amen! Like Pat, I’ve been marinating in 2.0 and have become a strong proponent. But all I can do is be a cheerleader and a guerrilla marketer: “Hey, Sam, you got a second? You ought to see this…” Dan, I think we have to take the starfish approach.
George Mayo says
This post is detached from reality. These questions that â€œinvariably come upâ€ canâ€™t be minimized. Instead of wishing for some utopian school system that will never happen, how about dealing with the reality on the ground?
Doesnâ€™t real change start in the classrooms? And doesnâ€™t it take time, especially in bureaucracies like public school systems? It may get boring for you answering the same questions over and over again, but I think it will take a lot of initial conversations to move forward. After reading your blog for more than two years, Iâ€™m pretty sure youâ€™ve made an impact in many of the places youâ€™ve spoken. I imagine your travels are sort of like teaching. You can never be sure how far your reach is.
These web 2.0 tools are very effective in building the basic skills everyone is so worried about. How about a little attention on this? The main reason I use these tools as a middle school teacher is because I know they help build reading, thinking, and writing skills. When I explain to administrators what Iâ€™m up to, thatâ€™s what I talk about. Go blogs go!
Clay Burell says
Interesting post, Will. I forwarded it to my principal (the last paragraph, anyway) via Diigo.
That last paragraph fairly describes my year-long Connective Writing project (elsewhere I’ve called it “Visionary Student Blogging”). It’s a challenge, as I’ve been chronicling since launching it, getting students to find and connect to those self-directed “nodes.”
So an offer that your parenthetical about your own “drive-by” approach to creating change in your presentations everywhere: why not be a “virtual team-teacher”? Why not become a node for these high school seniors in Korea and help them be an instance of the vision you articulate in your last paragraph? As a teacher located within the walled garden of their physical space, it’s hard for me to be an instance of the connectivism we’re talking about.
And notice, as we discussed in Shanghai, it’s a way to do an end-around, bypassing resistant teachers, to move the ball forward.