Connecting…

As ‘Connected Educator’ month comes to a close in the US, it seems prudent to reflect on my own networks and connections. I actually think that I have always been a ‘connected’ educator in some form or another.

When I first began teaching, connections were something that generally happened face-to-face. I developed a mentoring partnership with a more experienced teacher in my school. All of the new teachers in our town met frequently to share and discuss our experiences. As I attended conferences and workshops I extended my networks to enable connections with educators from outside of the town in which I lived. These people were always available by email plus we seemed to have regular ‘reunions’ at various conference events. All of these connections were of value to my professional growth and development yet they rarely involved technology as a means of connecting.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I was asked why I was not on Twitter. This was a tipping point. I took a leap of faith and jumped into the world of Twitter and 140 characters. I started out as a lurker (as many do) before beginning to share resources, respond to questions and join chats.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Jennifer Boyer

After taking the plunge and starting to explore the amazing conversations that take place on Twitter, I decided that I too could begin to blog – just like all of those amazing people that I had been following on Twitter. Connecting with people beyond our geographic location brings richness and diversity to our networks. For educators such as myself who live in quite remote or isolated places, our online connections are often a lifeline to learning.

No matter how you connect with your PLN, the most important facets are the combining of ideas, the sharing of resources, the challenging of viewpoints and access to robust, professional discourse. Teaching is not an individual pursuit.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by ion-bogdan dumitrescu

And a quick thanks to Adrian Bruce (@adrianbruce) as he was the person who introduced me to Twitter.

Loving Quality Presenters

We all know the scenario… You walk into a professional learning event, curious about the upcoming learning and desperately hoping for a quality facilitator who will be engaging and dynamic. I think this expectation is even higher when the audience are educators themselves.

Last Thursday was one of these occasions and I must admit to being a little sceptical arriving for a Team Management Styles (TMS) professional learning event with our team. I was a little sceptical about the value of learning having ‘endured’ the TMS program previously and because I strongly believe that crap presenters can ruin any learning.

Within 5 minutes I was freshly surprised. The facilitator was outstanding. From the moment people entered the room, he engaged in conversation and began to develop rapport with participants. Preparation is key. He had everything ready to go – presentation slides, flip charts, room arrangement, handouts and resources were set up well in advance of the audience arriving. It’s really poor form on behalf of presenters to still be preparing the room when participants are arriving.

Facilitators need to be dripping in knowledge of their content. It is blatantly obvious when a facilitator knows and believes in what they are presenting. Passion is not something that can be faked. Our facilitator was passionate. He new his content extremely well so was able to answer questions in an informed manner. Furthermore, he demonstrated application of his content knowledge throughout the day when interacting with people.

Our facilitator weaved an engaging narrative throughout the day as he introduced content, mixed with a range of anecdotes and personal experiences. Story telling is a powerful method for transferring information and ideas. Australia’s indigenous people have a rich history, told through narrative, that has endured with thousands of years. Professional learning can have similar longevity when information is presented in the form of a narrative. It’s not an easy thing to do but it is definitely achievable with some practice and preparation. If you are not sure what this look like, take a look at any number of TED Talks. There is a reason why we find them so engaging and inspiring.

Facilitating professional learning for adults can be loads of fun and a great experience for the facilitator and participants if it’s done well.

Related information

Reflecting…

A little over two years ago I began a new job, tasked with establishing a Technology Learning Centre to support teachers to effectively use technologies in teaching and learning practices. It was to be a three year project with significant initial funding to kickstart the initiative. I was given 6 weeks to turn a (very well equipped) room into a space that was inviting and to develop a set of professional learning programs that would cater for the diverse needs of teachers and overcome barriers of distance and isolation.

6 weeks later we opened the doors for our first series of professional learning events. They were well received by teachers who gave up time in their holidays to attend full day events. There were certainly a few issues in those early days including power outages, water outages and the pleasant background sounds of jackhammers tearing through concrete in the adjoining schools. Yet positive stories spread quickly throughout the department and many more teachers have taken the opportunity to learn and develop through our programs.

Enjoying Professional Learning at the Technology Learning Centre

Enjoying Professional Learning at the Technology Learning Centre

Two years on and we have hosted over 200 face-to-face and online professional learning events.

Sadly a decision has recently been made to close the centre as there has been a shift in focus and funding priorities. This came as a quite a shock to me and the broader education community. In a matter of days, the project has ended and I have moved to a new role.

Rather than focus on the disappointment, I have decided to reflect on some great successes and experiences from the last two years…

  • So many teachers are doing great things in their classrooms as a result of learning during our many events.
  • iPads are being used effectively in many schools and classrooms.
  • Technology is well and truly part the education agenda in our schools.
  • I have travelled to some amazing, isolated places in the Northern Territory.
  • My knowledge, skills and abilities as a professional learning facilitator have developed considerably.

ADE Institute 2013

I have had the exciting experience of attending the ADE Institute in Bali recently. Having only just been selected to participate in the program, I was a little apprehensive and also curious about what to expect. The pre-learning opportunities through an iTunesU course provided useful insights and helped allay some fears but it also served to raise many questions – questions that were soon answered as we were introduced to our Australia / New Zealand team in a creative afternoon session where we created trading cards and began our journey into understanding our role as Apple Distinguished Educators.

To start with, what is an Apple Distinguished Educator? ADEs are

  • trusted advisors
  • authentic authors
  • global ambassadors
  • passionate advocates

The week of learning contained a range of presentations, workshops, unconference events, discussions, networking and time for creating our own content. There was so much great information and ideas coming through in all forums.

Since returning from the Institute i have had some great conversations with colleagues and family, reflecting on the many learning opportunities that I experienced. Some of the highlights for me were:

Networking

This was my main highlight and always my first response when asked about the best part of the Institute. There were countless opportunities to network with a collection of amazing educators. It’s always refreshing to be surrounded by innovative people and ideas. I connected with so many people and have continued those connections on Twitter since leaving Bali. Meeting people in person after following them on Twitter is always an added bonus. This helps to strengthen connections and extend the virtual network.

Challenge Based Learning

I have heard about CBL quite a bit but have never prioritised my time to genuinely investigate the concept. Based on processes of inquiry, the key component of CBL is the challenge – A meaningful, achievable challenge is issued and students develop solutions that result in concrete, meaningful action. An example of a challenge is Develop and implement sustainable practices that will make a difference for your group within our community.

I am looking forward to some in-depth exploration of CBL in the coming weeks, then supporting schools to implement the concept.

Photography & Videography

We had a number of opportunities to attend various sessions facilitated by Bill Frakes. (Check his work at www.billfrakes.com) It’s always great to learn from experts and this was at the very top of the scale. He works for Sports Illustrated, has photographed Michael Jordan, Barrack Obama and thousands of others and was extremely willing to share his stories and expertise. Bill’s key message was that we take pictures with our heart, mind, eye and soul. Images tell powerful stories. This is something that I am looking forward to exploring further through my iPhoneography hobby and also in terms of digital storytelling in education.

We even had a 6.30am session where Bill Frakes explained and demonstrated some great techniques with Digital SLR Cameras and also iPhones. Check my photo of Tanah Lot temple taken (using True HDR) during the early morning session with Bill.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by spilkie

The ADE Institute was an amazing week, filled with many moments of learning in a range of formal and informal settings. It was a time to connect, collaborate and share ideas with many like-minded people. It was the a beginning of a journey into exciting content creation using iBooks Author and some other great software to showcase the creative and inventive learning that can take place when the potential of technologies are harnessed and exploited. It’s a journey that I am excited to be joining.

How Do We Really Learn to Use Technology?

I recently facilitated a workshop that introduced participants to the basic functions of iPads. (The workshop was called “The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to iPads and we have offered it at least twice per term this year). This is the only workshop that I run that does not focus on education and pedagogy – it is purely a ‘how-to’ session aimed at people who have never touched an iDevice. Interestingly, discussion usually turns toward education and ideas for using iPads in the classroom.

Most participants in these workshops arrive with a skeptical attitude and a general reluctance to engage with, or use technology for teaching and learning. However, these workshops are characterised by excited participants exclaiming about the simplicity of the iPad and the many possibilities of use in a classroom environment. I particularly enjoy watching adults behave like 5 year olds when playing with the camera and photo booth app. It’s fantastic. All of a sudden, adults transform into fun-loving participants without fear of shame or embarrassment. This is really exciting. It’s also what is often missing when reluctant technology users undertake ICT-focused professional learning.

In the midst of this workshop I noticed one of the participants refusing to touch the iPad and focusing on writing copious amounts of notes in a possible attempt to transcribe the entire 2 hour workshop. Always curious about people’s learning styles, I approached the person and encouraged them to take the iPad in their hands and actually try doing some of the things they were writing about. Reluctantly this person briefly picked up the iPad, turned it in her hands, tried twice to swipe to unlock, and then slammed it to the desk in front of her. She then launched into a diatribe (complete with numerous f bombs) that the afternoon had been a complete waste of her time and that she had not learnt anything about iPads.

This got me thinking…

What is the best way to learn to use a technology that is new to us? Do our default learning preferences impact on our ability to engage? (Plus the obvious question – what could I have done differently so that this person could have had a more positive experience in my workshop?)

I have no doubt in my mind that the best way to learn to use any new technology is through a hands-on process. Engaging with technology is not a passive process – it is something that you have to do. New technology can be such an abstract concept for most people. In the case of iPads (or any other touch screen device), if a person has never interacted with this type of technology their only reference will be from ‘traditional computers’. The technologies are quite different so new learners do not have a valid point of reference for beginning their learning. Therefore, this participant was not going to learn by writing notes; she was essentially writing about an abstract concept without any background understanding.

People may learn (or retain information) by writing about it but this won’t happen without a concrete frame of reference when learning about technology. In other words, you have to do it to learn it.




cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by langwitches

In reflecting on this experience, I need also consider the person’s attitude toward learning. Reluctant users of technology often expect professional learning to be something of a magic wand – they will turn up, spend 2 hours listening and leave with newfound skills and knowledge. The participant certainly came with that mindset. There is no magic wand for any type of learning. No matter our learning preferences, in the end we need to apply ourselves and dedicate time to learning new concepts, ideas or skills. This is definitely the case for learning technology.

Whilst there is no set method for learning to use and integrate technology in education, there are some basic points to consider about learners.

  • They need to see a purpose and believe it
  • They need to have time to touch, explore and experiment in a hands-on environment.
  • An open-minded approach toward learning is necessary.
  • Fear of technologies will inhibit learning.
  • Learning takes time.

The Disconnected Educator

For the past week I have been heavily involved in the School Sport Australia Football (Soccer) Championships. It has been a really enjoyable time spent outside in the blazing Darwin sun. Unfortunately I have had much time for connecting with my pln through social media. (plus I have been extremely tired at the end of each day!) So it has been 7 days without even glancing at Twitter, Google Reader or Facebook.

Whilst busy I didn’t notice what I was missing, but over the last 36 hours I have felt the urge to read and connect once again. I really missed reading all the great experiences of bloggers from around the world. I missed sharing ideas and resources. I missed the excitement of discovering new resources on Twitter. I missed the conversations at any time of the day or night. I missed the ongoing professional learning. I missed connecting.

The best part of all of this is that I did miss being a connected educator.

So many educators are yet to realise the benefits of social media. They don’t know what they’re missing.

New Experiences

I went fishing today.

It’s something of a milestone achievement in the eyes of my close friends and family! Fair skin and tropical sunlight are not compatible so I usually avoid outdoor pursuits that last longer than a couple of hours. But sometimes a friendship is cause to leave one’s comfort zone.

So I did just that… and I’m still alive to tell the story.

I was a novice today. This was my fourth experience of fishing in my life – and my first involved scooping fish out of shallow water with my hands! Fortunately I had an effective teacher…

My teacher showed me, guided me, laughed with me and led me. I received regular feedback. My learning journey was a narrative, made relevant through shared and sharing experiences. Learning was experiential – improved due to feedback. Multiple assessment standards were discussed. Questions were encouraged and answered. My teacher was passionate.

I enjoyed myself. I learned new things

… and I caught a fish

Not quite a fish