Friday, June 24, 2011

Do You Make Your Learning Transparent to Others?

Life-Long Learner Wordle by EdTechSandyK
Feel free to re-use, but please give credit...
To be a good educator is to be a life-long learner. I'll never forget hearing over and over in my first few years as a teacher that it was important to be a life-long learner. There I was, believing that with a B.A. under my belt I had arrived at a destination, only to discover that a journey encompassing the rest of my time on the planet had just begun.

Do you make your learning transparent to others? If so, how do you do it?

Do you stretch yourself educationally on occasion to stay mindful of a learner's perspective?

I've been pondering these questions recently in light of some experiences both professional and personal.

When you are seen as a technology expert or specialist it may be difficult or embarrassing to admit when you don't know how or why something technical works, but I think it's highly important to share when you don't know. And as much as possible share the learning process with the person or people looking to you to help answer a question or figure out a process.

Admitting that you are still learning, that you don't have a special gene which allows you to instantly absorb the inner-workings of all things technology, can have the effect of showing those less confident with technology an example of how it can be learned - even by them.

What does it look like to admit and show your learning? Here are three recent examples from my life:
Example One: During a workshop I was leading on Teaching with Multimedia/Digital Storytelling, I could not remember for the life of me how to export PowerPoint slides to .jpg files so they could be imported into Microsoft PhotoStory. (I can never remember this because I use it infrequently.) So, when a teacher/participant asked me for assistance, I sat down beside her and asked her to poke around in some PowerPoint menus. Then, we searched the PowerPoint help together (which is always fun if you don't know exactly what the help calls what you are wanting to do). After a few minutes of looking, realizing time was short, I asked for the keyboard and went to Google. Answer found and used with in a few moments (It's under "Save As" by the way; at least in Office 2003 it is). Both myself and the teacher/participant learned something together. And hopefully, she learned even more - some strategies to use when the answer won't come quickly to memory and searching Help just isn't enough.
Example Two: This one also comes in a workshop setting. Our instructional technology coordinator and myself co-facilitated a workshop for teachers in our school district on creating online courses in the Epsilen learning system. Epsilen is being provided to all K-12 educators and students in Texas as part of the Project Share initiative, and since it is free and we're in a budget crunch, it is now our approach to blended learning in our classrooms. Kim and I have, between us, created a total of three courses in Epsilen, and we did so mostly by trial and error, having only recently found an excellent manual provided by Epsilen. So, one of the first things we told our workshop participants was we were pretty new at this too. We would answer the questions we could and work together with them to find the answers we didn't know. During the day-long training, as participants made discoveries about Epsilen courses, they shared them with us and we made sure everyone in the class heard any new information. You might think hearing from your workshop facilitator that they are not an "expert" in the technology would be disheartening, but in this case I sensed it put the participants at ease and created a climate of co-learning. I'm hopeful this climate will carry on into an online Epsilen group we've created for all the participants where they can share their questions and discoveries.
Example Three: This one is more personal in nature. I have a good friend who for the last month has been battling back from an 11 hour brain surgery which was necessary to remove a tumor. While he has been in the hospital, many members of our church have been praying for him and looking for ways to support him and his family. Last Sunday, the worship pastor asked myself and other mutual friends if any of us had a cell phone that could record video. I piped up and said "Yes" before I asked why he was asking. The pastor then asked me to record a short video of our friend, who had recovered tremendously, so others could be encouraged by his progress. "I'll figure out how to do that!" I said. See, I'm not much of a video person and I've only had a smart phone for six months. But this was important, so I was going to learn. So last night, in my friend's hospital room, I figured out how to use the camcorder on my phone and we shot a fairly decent thirty-second video. I then commented that it would be fun going home and figuring out how to get it from the phone to the computer to the worship pastor. "Can't you just send it from the phone?" asked my recovering-from-brain-surgery friend. "Oh, yeah, duh," I'm thinking. And I stood there and figured it out - not on the first try, but eventually it worked! I told my friend and his wife at that moment that accomplishing that in front of them was humbling, but in a good way, because it reminds me of how folks I teach all the time might be feeling as they try to figure out this technology stuff.

Do you admit to others when you are learning, even if it is in your area of expertise? Do you draw them in and invite them to learn with you when the opportunity presents itself? Please share your examples in the comments below!

If you can't think of any recent example of "admitting to learning" in your life, I challenge you to find ways to share the experience of learning with others. Then come back here and share as well, so we can continue to learn together. :-)