I went out to dinner with a group of "Edutwits" on Wednesday evening - an event organised by the amazing Kerry Johnson. Now, Kerry works for educationau but her influence spreads way beyond her official employment role. This dinner was a great example of that and connected up a dozen or so educators involved in a wide span of areas - project officers, instructional designers, consultants, teachers and general networkers. I enjoyed myself very much. Now the timing of this dinner capitalised on the edayz09 event, a conference focussed on elearning mainly in the VET sector. So, there were a few visitors from interstate and the exciting news was that Nancy White was the featured keynote speaker for the edayz event.
I expressed my disappointment that it would have been great to hear her speak as Nancy is one of those fantastic online communicators and facilitators whose influence spreads far and wide. Her work in online communities is well renown and I've listened to a number of her talks online and been a regular reader of her blog. She's even remixed some of my work as you can see in her 10 Minute Lecture featured on Leigh Blackall's then blog back in 2007. She's an innovative thinker, an important node on my network and so, when Kerry suggested I come in this morning as her "guest" to hear Nancy speak, I jumped at the opportunity.
I also got to see how skillfully Kerry managed the Ustreaming, CoverItLive backchanneling process. The most technical I've ever gotten was to plunk an iRiver recorder at the front of a room at the start of the session so to see someone like Kerry run dual laptops, monitoring the conversation people were feeding in via chat and still keep track of the presentation, even with a five second vocal delay in her headset as she went. There are details about how she managed the process here.
Nancy is a very engaging speaker. And thanks to the marvels of social media, you don't have to put up with my half baked notes (which I started to try and type in on the Notepad on my phone) as I decided to lean forward (you can't really recline during a Nancy White presentation) and just enjoy absorbing the message. The presentation was Ustreamed and I was going to add the link here so you culd start listening in at around the 18 minute mark but Mike Seyfang has already done that piece of legwork and captured the essential audio here. Play while clicking through her slides and you have a pretty good time shifted re-experience.
This means I can spend so time reflecting on what her ideas sparked in my mind then and after I've had a bit of time to think things over. I do like the fact that Nancy talked about presented ponderings and incomplete gut feelings and that her ideas were conversation starters, not final assertions. Her opening poser "Is community 'dead'?" had me thinking as I think about teh work done at my school to foster a Professional Learning Community based on the work of Louise Stoll, and the concept of classroom as learning community (based on the work of Konrad Glogowski) that I have tried to foster with my student blogging program. Actually, can a classroom be a community? After all, the students don't get a lot of choice about how their peers are grouped and they get even less choice about who their leader (teacher) will be. Community is meant to be participants with a common purpose or interest - is learning too broad a brush stroke and a group of typical primary school students range across the spectrum in terms of how they view learning as a positive thing?
She also talked about how mobile technologies allow us to be together in some many other ways and that there are new emerging technologies that fall between or bridge the gap between the analogue and digital world - the Livescribe pen as one example. But it is a challenge to be able to show to others already using these technologies for purposes other than learning that they have huge potential as tools for learning. i think about my students' mindset around ipods in the classroom where they can't see past just listening to music and using it as a sort of concentration cocoon as its possible premier use in the classroom. My students view their mobile phones in much the same way - connections for social and entertainment purposes only. How can I change that?
Nancy talked through the various stages that one can learn - solo, pairs, triads, the flock and the network. I feel that many educators don't go past the solo and will go with the flock if compelled. Nancy is right about one thing - accessing and building a network has to be lived before one can possibly realise the potential and assist others on their way. I kept thinking about a recent conversation on a mailing list where an educator was defending Education Queensland's position that all social media tools used with students needed to be behind the safe walls of their portal The Learning Place - it was a bit like learning surf life saving in a backyard pool. Anyway, I digress.
I had never heard of the concept of triangulation before where the most innovative practice and real learning occurs at the edges, not at the top. It would certainly explain why the upper sections of a bureaucracy like the one I work for seem to be out of touch with what is happening in wider society and certainly with the pace and direction of technological change. Of course, the sweet spot of being able to be innovative and make a difference without running foul of leadership or having that success subverted into someone higher up the food chain's claim of success is one to think further on.
Anyway, I was glad I got to come and see Nancy for myself. I would have liked to have hung around and tried to meet her but I didn't want to overstay my welcome. Thanks again, Kerry!