I had the opportunity to join a team from November Learning last week in Louisiana. Our fearless leader Jim Wenzloff, with GPS in hand, brought together Seth Bowers, Lainie Rowell, Howie DeBlasi and I, and set us up to present the world of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasting, PLN’s and other Web2.0 tools to groups of teachers divided up by grade groupings.

The teachers were great! Their school year just ended and there they were all ready to continue their learning, challenging themselves in a way that, for many of them, was still fairly new and very challenging.

I had the honour of working with the Red Team.

Megan, a teacher in my group, wrote this on a VoiceThread:

“One of the challenges I face  is mastering one piece of technology before a newer one is introduced. I feel as though as soon as I become comfortable with one method of technology, I am asked to learn another and incorporate it into my teaching.”

This really coincided with something that Elaan Bauder wrote as a guest blogger here on Pairadimes. Elaan ends the post:

There is amazing & inspiring work going on around the world, in your own country and in your own district. It is important to not only make it accessible, but also realistic and digestible for teachers. When we support growth amongst ourselves as professionals, we are better prepared to nurture growth for our students – because after all, we are all students in this journey together!

There was a lot of learning that went on in Louisiana, but just as in my 2 Point Oh Yeah presentation, the learning created more questions than answers… at least for me.

When introducing ‘new’ tools to teachers what’s the right mix of breadth and depth? How much should we expose teachers to at one time? And how deep should we get with a single tool, a tool that may or may not interest all of the participants?

How do we differentiate instruction for our learners?

What kind of incremental successes should we build in? (For example, I wanted all of my participants to contribute to the VoiceThread, and to edit and practice working on our wiki).

How important is the process?

Perhaps it is just me, but I wonder sometimes if we don’t drown people with our good intentions? We send wave after wave of information ‘at’ them hoping something floats. This doesn’t work with our students, what makes us think it will work for adults?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there was an incredible amount of learning that went on. In talking to teachers it seemed that they were genuinely excited about what they learned. The goal for this training was that every teacher would take one thing back to their classrooms and to their schools to share… my sense was that the teachers we worked with were excited about doing this!

My questions are about my own practice and my own learning. How can I be more effective and have greater influence when introducing learning tools?

Or is it really the tools that even matter?

In my presentation on Thursday morning to the whole group, I spent a bit of time talking about how as adults we let fear hold us back. Perhaps this is where we need to spend more time. Carolyn Foote talks about having a Beginner’s Mind:

Teachers are often accustomed to being considered the “expert mind,” so it is not just that we are asking teachers to see the uses of a particular tool in the classroom–what we are really asking is for is an entire paradigm shift–for teachers to approach their classrooms with a beginner’s mind, a child’s mind.

I’m trying to bring that beginner’s mind to what I do as a presenter. What can I tinker with and try in order to help teachers play and learn more meaningfully?

Another thing that I’m still trying to figure out is how to effectively ‘show’ teachers the value of a PLN?

As Miguel Guhlin says here:

If you fail to connect to the network of learners, you miss out on a global conversation about what you are passionate about. And missing out is a darn shame because it can save you time, energy, and increase your reach, no matter how brilliant (or not) you are. That’s a powerful idea. Smart people get smarter because they have access to the network of learners. People who are just starting out are able to learn as fast as they can to accomplish what they need to do.

Something interesting happened at the dinner table with our team on Tuesday night, (we were joined by Thomas Daccord and Brian Mull who were working locally with another group). The waiter asked, “Where Y’all from?” And we had to go one-by-one around the table naming different cities across North America, and yet we were there as a team. And now miles away from them, I am hyper-linking to them and inviting them, and inviting you,  to help me look at my own growth and learning. This sharing, linking and conversing is hard to quantify to someone who doesn’t live it.

How do you explain that a simple request on Twitter leads to a flurry of emails and a list of great examples of effective use of digital tools for learning that I never could have found on my own?

In summary, a lot of great learning went on in Louisiana! The question now is how do we meaningfully continue it?

How do we improve our effectiveness in promoting meaningful integration of technology for learning?

How do we show teachers the value of developing a PLN?

How do we continue to challenge ourselves on our own personal learning journeys?

7 comments on “Learning in Louisiana

  1. I am reminded of an interesting conversation I once had. Kids were playing a basketball game while I was standing to the side with a friend philosophizing about how to facilitate greater involvement with new technologies. Amidst conversation our attention would dip in and out of the basketball game with whistle signaling “play on” or “shift”.

    The contrast was Involvement and application on one side of the line, lofty abstractions on the other.

    So the delicate aspect of new technologies, especially when their application is out of the comfort zone for many people, is, when are people part of the equation. When do people have to move closer to the technology and when does the technology have to move closer to the people.

    The advent of any new technology struggles to find find a balance before their is suddenly a quantum leap in application – in invovlement.

    I believe ink pens for a very long time was a specialty device – a new technology – that it’s application remained inaccessible for hundreds of years for a majority of the European populations. Monks were the only ones with the time, energy, and money to afford to master the art of penmanship.

    So I believe it was McLuhan who once said that new inventions essentially become meaningful only after they become boring. That is to say, people can start utilizing new technologies and infuse creativity and substance into their application that affects their everyday life only after a basic amount understanding has evolved to make it essentially boring enough to stop learning about, and start using for.

  2. Hi David,

    On my way home today I was thinking about this issue -sort of on a similar vein –

    how to share with other teachers who aren’t using technology and don’t want to, the value, joy and effectiveness of working in communities with other teachers, working on line, working with different applications – what it has done for our classes, our students’ learning and our own.

    And in the end, I realized that we are doing it: we share, we tweet, we blog, we talk.

    In the end, they’ll join us because you can’t stop a river from flowing.

    And water will eventually erodes even the mightiest of rocks.


  3. I’d love to say their is an “efficient and effective” model. I think there are a combination of experiences OVER TIME that will help a teacher evolve their teaching and learning. First, we have to get away from the word “trained.” Second, I’m finding that if you focus on a school/21st century learning/classroom strategic goal (like building collaborative skills) then picking one tool, presenting to faculty how that tool works to support that goal, and then have them play around with it in a workshop is the best first step. Then it is the partnership–working side by side with them as they evolve it into something meaningful in the context of their classroom–that they see the results.

    As for developing their interest and engagement in a PLN: once they have some tools and aha experiences under their belts, then they feel as if they can enter the conversation. Hard to see value of PLN without being overwhelmed. Next step is to find the right network for the teacher.

  4. Hi David,
    I’ve really missed reading your blog! I’ve been off the blogsphere for awhile.EVERY question you’ve brought up I have been grappling with over the past few months and my frustration with them has made me lose sight of the forest for the trees so to speak. It was a relief to read your blog and find I am not the only one thinking about these issues.
    I agree with much of what Laura has said. I’ve found that the focus of 21st century skills/learning etc..a and finding a tool to fit plus keeping my learning and experience with the kids very transparent has helped.
    My biggest frustration is with the PLN’s. I’ve had the steepest professional learning curve of my career this year all due to a Twitter challenge. How to get that across to my colleagues? I have no clue.
    I have noticed that they have been watching what I do with their students quite carefully and are now beginning to ask some questions. Maybe leading by example, just like we do with our students, and keeping our own learning transparent is one idea.
    I definitely learned to tone down the Web 2.0 tool enthusiasm down! 🙂 I used to hit them like a tidal wave, now I’ve managed to knock it down to a fast-ferry wake wave. :p
    While I have not offered any great pearls of wisdom, I would like to thank you for this post. You have significantly decreased my frustration levels and provided me with a way to re-focus with more clear objectives for next year.

  5. Thanks for your comments!

    You reminded me of a quote that I used in my presentation to this group in Louisiana:

    Students today depend on these
    expensive fountain pens.

    They can no longer write
    with a straight pen and nib.

    We parents must not allow
    them to wallow in such luxury
    to the detriment of learning
    how to cope in the
    real business world
    which is not so extravagant.

    -From PTA Gazette, 1941

    The ‘technology’ has changed, but the idea that these ‘new’ tools are “to the detriment of learning” hasn’t… at least for some, and it may not until that technology is boring and ‘invisible’ to them.

    It is that sense of community you mention that we, who integrate technology meaningfully into what we do, try so hard get others to understand… keep sharing! 🙂

    One of the things I often plug is social bookmarking, because it is one area where teachers can see value for themselves, and I think when that happens it is only natural to want to share it with their students.

    It is indeed hard to ‘tone it down’ and not be the technology evangelist! I really like your idea of keeping our own learning transparent!

    On that note, Jim sent some feedback from the Red group yesterday.

    It varied from: “…We were not overblown with too much information.” to “…Quite a few times I felt overwhelmed.”

    …and from “…Not only was he knowledgeable with the various technological ideas presented, but he also possesses a great knowledge of pedagogy.” to “He was very hard to follow and seemed to jump from one thing to the other. I would have benefited more from step by step instructions on some of the things he wanted us to learn about.”
    A few included requests for hand-outs too.

    This feedback was the only one to reference my PLN: “…You are so aware of the abundance of resources on the Internet that it makes it easy to see how much is available. Your
    PLN is awesome and I hope that I can create something similar in time…”

    I’ll spend more time looking over all the feedback, and I’m thankful for the candidness of some of them. My big picture lessons behind this?

    *We can’t be everything to everybody.

    *Be passionate and authentic.
    Case-in-point: “You really seemed to have a grip on what you were teaching. I also appreciated your openness and honesty about areas you are not an expert in.”

    *Sloooow down!
    I allowed people to move ahead, and I provided many places for participants to follow links and explore their own interests, so I should have spent more time with those that needed the step-by-step help.

    …there is always more to learn 🙂

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