Am I willing to give up control?

That is really what it comes down to doesn’t it?  Or at least that is a big part of it.  The formal learning environment is what most of us is used to.  We were educated in this manner and we were trained to educate in this manner.  There is not doubt that it may not be impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, but it can be difficult.   As an educator, I have been asked countless times why we need all these changes in education.  Many people have and still do say to me, “it worked fine for me when I was in school, so why are we changing it?”  For the most part, by “it”, they mean reading, writing and arithmetic taught to well behaved students, sitting in rows and being respectful.  That is the way I understand it anyway.

I hear from my own father, often, how he is frightened by the way the world is heading and he fears, in some ways, for our future being led by these young people who often appear uninterested, unmotivated, disrespectful, distracted and all in all heading in a wrong direction.

Oh, I am sure that some of this is true.  Education does seem to swing on a pendulum and we do often throw out perfectly good ideas and strategies to make way for the new flavour.  This is bigger then education though isn’t it?  It goes out beyond our classrooms and our schools to a much bigger audience.  The formal education that we are all used to does not need to be thrown out, but it needs to move over to make room for the new dog on the block-informal learning.  I mentioned before that my parents could not have possibly prepared me for the world that I live in today.  They had no idea what changes would come about, just as we, as educators supposedly preparing our students for the future, really have no idea what changes will come about in their lives.  We can guess and make predictions, but we really do not know.  One thing that we know for sure right now though, is that there are uncountable opportunities available for learning and sharing and that if we do not allow our students the opportunity to learn from each other and others, we will for sure be doing them a disservice.

I sat in a inservice session yesterday on preparing ourselves for the new curriculum documents in Saskatchewan that are turning up on so many of our desks at break neck speed.  They are based on constructivism.  Letting students ask their own questions about learning and letting them  play a much bigger role in how they will meet the learning outcomes.  One of the things that occurred to me was that it requires teachers to take a back role.  To step back and let the students learn and in doing so we give up control.

For me it really aligned with the idea of informal learning.  To allow students to participate in informal learning within our formal learning environments also requires that teachers give up some control.  That they let students take the lead and they become a facilitator of learning rather than information feeders.

In my job as an educator I feel not only obligated to allow my students to communicate and learn informally, but I also feel compelled to give them those opportunities.  I don’t think that I can feel that I am doing my job without allowing them to learn beyond me and despite of me.

In my job as an administrator, I think I must educate my teachers, as well, on the advantages of letting go and then I must support them in that endeavour.  Many of us feel like we are flying by the seats of our pants in a strange and unfamiliar environment.  It is important that we reach out and help those that are reluctant, just as members of this class have reassured me at the beginning of my journey into this strange new social network. Yes it may require great change in thinking and a lot of educating of parents and community members, but hopefully we will be surprised at the benefits.

Making Friends With the Backchannel

I have decided to approach my new experience with a new attitude.   After all we are three weeks in now and it is time to put on my big girl pants, so to speak, and move on.  The backchannel is my new focus.  I seem to have difficulty focusing on the speaker and wanting to participate in the backchannel conversations.  It doesn’t help, I don’t suppose, that by the evening my brain does not have much focusing power left in it.  I decided to venture out and find out what I could about the backchannel.

Once again it seems like there is a disjoint between what I was taught when I was younger, what I was trained to do in university and what is the reality of our changing world.  I could tell by the conversations during class that other people were wondering what would happen in our own classes if our students were carrying on conversations in the background while we were trying to teach. Would we be as patient as Dr. Richard Schwier was?   He seemed to not be bothered by it at all, in fact, he seemed to embrace it and be able to participate in it while he was teaching.  There seems to be something to be learned from that ,doesn’t there?  Maybe we should be encouraging our students to backchannel more and we should be talking less.

I blame my parents for teaching me to be polite and courteous to others.  I was taught not to speak when others were speaking and to listen to others carefully.  Although I still think these teachings are important, it seems like there are times when all rules can be broken. How could they possibly know in the 1960’s and 70’s that they were not preparing me for the future.   I think that the time has come for me to embrace the idea of backchannel participation and encourage my students to do so also.  According to Frederic Megret,a professor of international law and human rights at McGill University,

there are some hidden advantages to the backchannel that I never thought of.

One of them is that you may have participation from a larger number of students.  It is true that in a large group, only a few, more vocal voices participate and a lot of the audience is quiet.  It does make sense that if they had a less obvious way to participate, that more might take advantage of it.

Another thing that I never thought of was the backchannel could actually make students, including myself, more attentive at the thought of being able to participate in a different format.

Although the general verdict is still out on whether backchannel participation is great or not, I think that backchanneling might be for me after all.  Relax, take a chill pill and take advantage of it instead of fighting against it.  Advice I plan to follow during our next on-line session.  See you on the backchannel.

Am I a candidate for on-line social communities?

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting since my last post about how I fit into this new world I have entered into?  Have I made a mistake?  I crave knowledge and understand how the basic technology works, but I am still bogged down by the effort it takes to belong to this new community.  I feel frustrated, not by the lack of desire, but lack of basic ability.  I keep trying to reassure myself that things will get better and easier, but sometimes I am not so sure.  I have proven myself to be able to handle new situations and I often put myself out of my comfort zone on purpose to further my learning and open new horizons.  Am I just a social networking wanna be?

There are a few things that are holding me back, as I see it right now anyway.

1.  My lack of willingness to expend the effort necessary to become a contributing member of my new learning community.  Now I don’t mean that I don’t want to belong, but I am not sure that I fully understand the benefits I might gain by expending the time and energy necessary to belong.

2.  My lack of willingness to engage.  What do people get from their learning communities that I do not fully understand?  My involvement in other communities in my daily life depends on my comfort level with the people involved.  It also depends on my comfort level with the information sharing within the community.  I started a new job last year in a new school, in a new city, in a new province, in an unfamiliar position.  I only stayed in the school for one year and I moved on to my present position in another school.  When I left that school, some of my colleagues thought I was quiet and they did not really get to know me.  What they did not know was that I was far enough out of my element that I wanted to disengage my mouth and glean from them all the information possible-sort of live and learn, so to speak.  Could it be that I am doing the same thing in my new community?  I want to disengage until I glean enough from others to jump on board?

3.  My inability to multi-task. There are sometimes many things going on at once in my new learning community.  How can I possibly take it all in?  The idea of being connected to people all over the world is interesting and mind boggling.  Every time I enter the Wiki sight or sit with my head phones on on Tuesdays I find myself jumping from one thing to another.  I can’t understand how some people seem to be able to listen to what Alec or the guest speaker is saying and participate in back channel all at one time.  I only seem to catch every 3rd or 4th thing on back channel and it can make me feel frustrated because I think that I am missing something.

My plan for my future in my new community?  I must keep pushing myself.  My willingness to take responsibility for my own lack of understanding and my own learning will carry me through.  I must learn to trust my new community members so that I can not only learn from them, but I can offer the opportunity for them to learn from me as well.

Be patient, my new friends!  I will try to engage and I can’t wait for the next thing you are all going to teach me.

Getting started with social media

Just setting up my first blog ever.  About time I joined the rest of the world.  Taking a very interesting course out of the University of Regina on social media.  It is forcing me to get out of my comfort zone and try some new things.  I am very excited about learning everything I can about social media.  I am a teacher and a middle school administrator and I feel the need to not get left behind by my students.  The comments  I hear most often from parents and other interested community members are, “I don’t understand kids today”, “What is happening in schools today” and “Why can’t things be the same way they were when I was in school, it worked for us!”.  I have thought about that often, what is “wrong” with kids today?  I am quite sure that there isn’t anything “wrong” with them, but it requires a huge change in thought and actions on the part of adults to relate to them and help them understand a world that we do not even understand.  We cannot teach the same way we have always done it because that world no longer exits.  We are trying to educate children to exist in a world that does not even exist yet and with infinite possibilities ahead, what should we teach them?  Do we even have the ability to teach them and prepare them for the unknown?  As an educator, it is a scary thought.  What I do feel we need to do is to gain a better understanding of the media sources they are using every day and try to incorporate them into the everyday learning.  It is like Michael Wesch says in his UTube video-“This Machine is (Changing) Us”- it is difficult to understand and grasp the new meaning of “whatever!” We need to reach into those “whatever” and “not impressed”  minds and help them channel the possiblities in a positive direction. Any suggestions?