Connected Pro-D

What is our role in non-formal learning?

Posted in ECI 831 by tchcruiser on September 27, 2009

Knowing that we work within very formal learning spaces does not mean that we also do not participate in non-formal learning. What I think is very important is to model all the ways that we are learning in non-formal situations (technology enahnced or otherwise) when we talk about what we do with our students. It is critical that we show them our RSS readers and talk about how they work (as I know no students of mine who ever used this tool…), show them our blog space and talk about how we use it to share ideas and opinions, mention participation in book clubs with friends where we read books and share our thoughts about them in a social setting rather than a highly formalized study that a classroom would conduct around a book. I would also bring in and show them ideas about how to learn within their community – neighborhood centres, churches, libraries – they all have learning opportunities. It is also a chance to talk about networking and chit chatting strategies with people when they are out and about in the world. These are skills that need practice, but often turn up into surprising bits of connections… people you meet and talk to when in line at the store when you mention something about what they are reading or buying, conversations with people beside you on an airplane, bus or restaurant counter around topics that come up or extending conversations when they meet people at family functions or commmunity events.

What I have found is that the opportunities and reasons to want to venture into non-formal learning comes after contact with people in more formal settings – once the contact is made, there then becomes reasons or ideas on how to follow up and click into their extended circles of knowledge, expertise and aquaintence – if only from the periphery at first. Much like the idea of “loafing” or “lurking” that came up in the back channel last week. Then, you can find ways to contribute to the teaching and learning going on in that particluar sphere for as long as you need or want it.

I guess I see this and have expereinced it myself with teacher PD… often it starts as a school division imposed initiative (the formal learning structure) where you all are in the same place becuase somone has asked you to be there, not necessarily because you initiated it. Then…. you get to talking to a few in the room, as well as some others who may not have been there, or maybe are in another division but also working on the same things, and you decide that there are bits there that you want to work more closely with, but in your own way and in your contexts. You decide to keep in touch via email, sharing files, assessment tools, lesson plans, exemplars with each other. Then…. you decide that you want to learn more about your topic and have bought in enough that you are willing to meet on a weekend or evening so that you have more time together to talk about what you have learned and share your resources (or you schedule a synchronous session online where you can file share, talk, and work together in real time).  What started out as a formal learning experience, evolved into a non-formal learning experience.

I think also though that the formal and informal weave in and out of each other, depending on who has the skills and how they can be accesses. I think that we dip into more formal learning spaces from time to time becuase that ends up being the most effecient, or accessible, means of learning what we are wanting to learn, at the time we are ready to learn it…or it is the kind of learning that is going to be “recognized” as valuable by others higher in our power structures.  I think students need to see that this is likley going to be the case for them throughout their livesw- just  becuase they graduate does not mean they are completely done with formal schooling…. they may wade into formal pools for work or recreation (I am thinking things like coaching certification and similar programs) but primarily, their learning spaces will be more non-formal as they get older.

With that being said, I would like to see school divisions and our own profession recognize more informal/non-formal learning experiences as equally valid forms of Professional Development – depending on what we think we need to access and be a part of in order to learn more about what interests and challenges us. I think there is much to be gained by shifting time, money and resources into different professional development models – where perhaps time and money we would have once spent on registrations, travel and accomodations to attend a 2 day workshop could instead be spent on release time for teachers to get together to work together, share materials and resources and teach and learn from each other if that is what is more pressing and meaningful for their context at that time.

Does anyone else feel the same way?

Social Media and Youth – The School’s Place

Posted in ECI 831 by tchcruiser on September 27, 2009

I watched the video for this week and read this related article about social media, youth and schools and have a few things to say in response. Jesse B in our ECI 831 class also had some questions he is concerned about posted on his blog that were connected with the topic – mostly around what and how much schools can police and control in relation to social media (he is concerned about this as a school administrator).

I found a few things in the video interesting:

Kids and adults don’t use the same social media tools, and if they do, they don’t necessarily use it in the same way. Kids don’t want to be sharing the same space as adults, or run the chance of being “seen” in the same place, and they don’t use it in the same way. For instance, they are not necessarily sharing all of their most personal and intimate details on the very public walls- they know to keep those conversations within the more private discussion spaces.  Kids also are more likely to share everything from one space or tool – they are not into delicious tagging of links or sites and they don’t use twitter. I find this very interesting, as these are the tools we were asked to use for this class. The students we work with are more likely to use a tool like Facebook for almost all of their sharing – pictures, files, links, and micro-blogging information. Frankly, I would also prefer to use ONE place for everything also 🙂  What is also not possible to control is what tool they are using – as soon as adults figure it out and start using it or blocking it, they quickly move on to another tool. However, our video guest did highlight the fact we all need to use what ever tools for our selves first and figure it out and get comfortable with it, before we can even hope to use it in our school and work environments. I totally agree and for this reason, I find policies that prevent or severely limit using workplace technologies and tools for personal use go against this basic premise. If you are not allowing me the freedom to use it on my own time, then when am I supposed to figure out how to use it???

What our role as educators is becomes a bit more clear for me (and is discussed in the final minutes of the video presentation). We need to teach them (and ourselves and others who we use these social media tools with) how to recognize and deal with power issues in relationships, as they become even more nuanced and tricky to deal with when you can’t always see facial expressions, hear tones of voice, etc. Relying on text communication is limiting in that way, but it is not impossible to learn the social graces of social media.  Knowing how to get along with others and at the same time, how to exert your own independence and uniqueness, has always been an underpinning of education and will remain so. Indeed, it will be come even MORE important to explicitly teach relationship building and effective communication skills in this “new age ” as our modes of communication change. The fact that we still reach out and need to communicate has not changed – how we do it and who we do it with has.

I also really like what the video has to say about being intentional about opening dialogue and relationships between adults/teachers and students so that students can show us how they use social media and how they create things (as this is often the place where adults find difficulty) and we can in turn, as a response to the sharing and reciprocal part of the dialogue, probe and get them thinking critically about how they are using the tools (which is something we tend to be better at).  Producing content just because you can, without having purpose or without thinking about the implications of the finished product for yourself and others, is something we all need to take into consideration.

I also think it is important to teach students and colleagues about the power the tools have to do things that may not ever be intended and that those things can’t be controlled no matter how many policies are put into place. Information that is published and shared in social media forums can stay for a much longer period of time than one could possibly imagine, it can be duplicated and copied and put into different contexts that you had never intended, it can be shared with potentially millions very quickly (even though you only “whispered” it to a few close friends) and it can be searched and linked back to you easily. These realities are very humbling, scary and powerful and need to be discussed and thought about often and intentionally in classrooms, staff rooms, boardrooms and at home with the support and backing of parents at the dining room table.

What can be very easily and quickly created can be very difficult to take back or fix once it is placed in the public domain 😦

Social Software and CBC Radio

Posted in ECI 831 by tchcruiser on September 21, 2009

I was listening to CBC Radio this afternoon on the way to the Rider game (turns out I probably should have just kept on listening to the radio 🙂 and heard a short clip on today’s show about how a IBM executive turned away from email to social networking sites as his prefered mode of communication – even at work! Hmmmm…. knowing how much I use email in my new role as a consultant, I can imagine what a challenge this would be if I insisted that the only way I would respond is if they found me in 2.0 land and used a social software tool…. I picture myself instantly as a younger better looking version of the Maytag repair man!

 You might be interested in hearing the podcast of this show to hear what he had to say… (I don’t think the podcast is ready yet or I would try and figure out how to attach it here for you..) Did anyone else hear this interview with Luis Suarez? He explains how he got rid of corporate email and replaced it with social software tools.

He basically quit using work email becuase he found other free social software tools that do a better job of things such as sharing files (instead of in large attachments in an email), conferencing rather than ccing and reply all, collaborating on projects and presentations, etc.  What I found interesting was the switch to, what I perceive as, much more instantaneous communication and a turn away from email which tends to be much slower and one-sided. While I see the benefit of social software for collaboration and sharing, what I sometimes still cherish about email is the ability to answer it and attend to it when it suits me, and that others cannot tell when that is except when I respond. I like having time to think about my response, gather the files needed, etc, and at times, I feel that social sites that show when and if you are “on” encourage automatic, rapd fire reponses just because you are there.  If someone sees you are on, asks you a question or starts engaging you in conversation, and you do not respond right away, or worse, just don’t repond, is that seen as rude in the new 2.0 world? Is the person asking expecting a response as soon as they ask it becuase they know you are there? Will they be offended if you “ignore them” – when really it could have been you are multi-tasking, or trying to get things done, or stepped away from your computer? I guess this is where I liked the one-sidedness of email communication 😦  If you only have email (and for some, this IS a new tool!), and like email, are you a luddite in 2.0 land???

Does anyone else feel like a nervous teenager at their first high school dance when engaging in conversation in 2.0 – or is it just me? Is he going to “wink” at me or “poke” me? Is she going to respond to my tweet? Will they laugh at my joke? If a you-tube video plays in 2.0, does anyone see it?? I can see why many are nervous wall flowers- watching others who have screwed up their courage and are out there taking the risk!

Posted in ECI 831 by tchcruiser on September 21, 2009

My first attempts at blogging…

Posted in ECI 831 by tchcruiser on September 12, 2009

Well, this would be my first attempt ever at blogging! I have done a lot of other things with computers as tools in education, but I have never delved into the world of blogging. It is likely an experience that once I start, I will more easily see how it can be used in classrooms in order to make learning better for me and for students. Seems to be the case with all other programs and tools I have used so far – I have had to actually take it out of the box, play around with it a bit and then use it for my own use first to get comfortable with it, before I ever felt I could use it in classrooms. I know this is somewhat faulty thinking – kids are more than capable of figuring things out without waiting around for me to learn how to use it first. It is my own power and control issues that I have to think about in order to harness the power that many of these tools have. Trying to control the access and use of technology tools because I am not familiar is not even possible anymore anyway, and I should be thankful. Becuase of the wide accessibility of these tools, I had students submit to me fantastic projects and assignments that were built and showcased in free and easy to use programs available to them on the internet from their homes in rural Saskatchewan. They produced finished products that were far beyond what I had even originally imagined and ended up learning alongside them when I could enter into conversations about where they found the tool, how much time it took them to make it, challenges they had, etc. Very powerful and inspiring to have it reinforced that content was NOT the focus of the project. The content was the material that allowed the students to explore and develop processes, strategies and skills in order to demonstrate they had learned something new.

I have taken a class online before, but it was asynchronous and had a much different feel than our first class the other night in Elluminate. As an online teacher in the past who taught asynchronously also, I know only too well the limitiations that kind of course delivery can have (as well as some of the strengths). But there is no doubt that learning community is built and reinforced when you can be there at the same time and place and hear and see eachother at the same time. Not much else can replace that important element as part of the learning experience for anyone. Learning that has lasting value usually involves interaction and communication with others and it is exciting that technology has brought us to this time and place where physical distance is no longer a barrier to building this sense of community and real time sharing of ideas, experiences and opinions.

My work this week will be to get more familiar with the backside of this blogging site and to figure out what the widgets are, what they do and if I want them or not. Anyone have any ideas which ones are the most powerful and essential?

I also am curious about RSS feeds and figuring out how they work. I have a feeling that this tool will be beneficial to me in my work as a consultant who constantly has to keep up with journals and newsletters.