I’m thinking out loud here following a stream of consciousness triggered from Dean Groom’s post today. His theme was trust and how it evolves in an online network – my brain started throwing how that related to my own experiences and so I left a starting point in a comment:
I find that trust builds up time on the web – it develops over a sustained period of reading someone’s work, reading and conversing via comments, seeing where their masked agendas and sacred cows lurk and following their links back to their origins. My most trusted sources are ones willing to hear out my point of view or wonderings without putting me in my box in a reactive way. After all, if I just want dispensed wisdom I can just listen to a pontificated podcast or read a published article from a trusted traditional media source. I want a conversation – and to get anything of value out of that, mutual trust is pretty important.
My learning team had a PD Seminar on Wednesday focussing on Personalised Learning (more commonly referred to as Differentiated Instruction in other parts of the world) where the most valuable learning for the day was when I was engaged in conversation with my colleagues. Our presenter /facilitator, Pam Burton, did a brilliant job of opening up pathways to consider, drawing us in with activities that required conversation, self examination and questioning.
That’s what the web offers me and other connected educator – the opportunity for conversational learning. That conversation is the real catalyst for learning – the content gives us all a context and framework as I’m finding out in my Intel Thinking With Technology course that I’m currently running with six middle primary teachers at my school. The course is secondary to the opportunity to connect, toss ideas around in a more personal setting that I would find less useful even with a group of closer to ten people. So, why would I bother with presenting to larger groups at a conference? That’s not a conversation – and it’s difficult to know what others are getting out of it, even if I think I’m offering something worthwhile.
A disgruntled parent about twelve years once accused me of running a shotgun curriculum – stand at the front, spray it out and hope it hits someone. (To be fair to myself, his major gripe was more with his perceived shortcomings of the system I served. I was merely a typical cog in the machine.) Teacher PD is still much like that – expert delivers, we all take notes and somehow we take enough away to improve our own learning and that of our students. If you’re an engaging speaker then this approach can work – to an extent. John Hattie was a recent example of this where his research was presented in such a way that two hours flew and his message was sticky enough to last into the conversations that resulted over the following days and weeks. But this is still a mother bird feeding its open mouthed chicks approach.
I know I’ve harped on this before but there is a disturbing irony when someone uses this approach to inform others about the benefits of networked learning. What else can we do? I don’t think that I want to front up to another state conference to talk up the benefits of online learning. The other twist is that there is an unending source of conversation/s sitting in my Google Reader, in my Twitter stream, in my Ning communities with like minded educators who also need no convincing but at the local level, there is still still admiration for the self promoting experts who will show us all the way to classroom learning nirvana. Too many educators that I cross paths with have no idea of the freedom, the power, the connection they can make with a little effort and time. I can do some influencing in a situation like my Intel course time where there is room for the conversation to grow.
How do you grow the conversation? I’d like to know.