Just Give Me A Decent Conversation And I Might Just Learn Something

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.

Photo of Flat Students created by Alex and Colin Harbeck.

Photo of Flat Students that were created by Alex and Colin Harbeck.

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9 thoughts on “Just Give Me A Decent Conversation And I Might Just Learn Something

  1. Paul Wilkinson

    I thought I’d better reply so you weren’t left with the irony of having no comments on a post like this πŸ™‚

    Your post resonated with me (again). You are right, I think, that conversation does take the learning to a whole new level. Here’s an interesting (at least to me) thought I have. Can I call people part of my network if I never give them anything back? I have a list of rss feeds into my reader but only a very few do I ever comment on or communicate with reciprocally. I learn a lot from many of them but they won’t even know I’m there. At this level of lurking I’m a receptive node on someone else’s network.

    Mmmmmm. I wonder. TV stations do this don’t they? They broadcast without much thought or any attempt at listening. I still remember in the early days of technology in school hearing someone talk about television being the answer because all this great educational content would be available and schools would just need a big screen tv and children could watch and learn all they needed to know.
    The challenge I take from this musing is how often do I listen to the children in my class and engage in a conversation with them or are they experiencing me in a shot gun delivery, tv lecturing manner. Now will I have the courage to go and ask them? (Phew this is much too deep for a Saturday morning)

  2. Jenny Gilbert


    Your post resonated with me this morning- for a number of reasons. I have learned a lot from my online network and as domain leader have worked hard to encourage teachers in my school to do the same. In fact, if they would join me they would be able to make the same choices I do when I have a little time up my sleeve and do some online reading and connecting. They would also have some of the ready made materials and ideas I have found along the way for the units they teach. However the majority of them don’t. They ‘don’t have the time’ is the most popular reason (excuse?) and the other is that they ‘don’t understand’ it. I am beginning to believe that the real truth is their lack of trust or faith in the possibilities of the positive outcomes that can come from building online networks. Negative publicity about Facebook, Twitter, about cyberbullying and the like have made them quite dismissive of any potential these have to be of benefit to them personally.

    The other thing I have been mulling over is the fact that online resourcing and networking did not get a single mention at the sessions I attended at the VATE conference for English coordinators yesterday. I went to sessions for new coordinators. There was casual discussion about various differences across schools particularly with variations in conditions of work and expectations. I have come away with the email addresses of the two presenters. No opportunity for establishing ongoing networking online was mentioned let alone given. The only use of internet systems was the urge to make our feedback contributions to the national curriculum document. To be fair there was a workshop on using internet in the classroom I did not go to. perhaps if I had gone there I may have been able to add to my pln.

    It concerns me that a professional organisation for English teachers has not made more of the benefits of online conversations at a coordinators conference. In fact I have struggled in my PLN adventures to find peers in my state doing what I do – so I am now wondering if the lack of trust is the larger contributing factor or is it that we are just so time poor we cannot be bothered?

    Sorry – my comment got so long I should be writing my own blog post on it I guess…maybe I will…after I finish up corrections and interim reports this weekend πŸ™‚

  3. Allanahk

    I would say to grow a conversation you have to be in one- to leave a comment, a question, a request for clarification, a disagreement. You have to step off off the fence and engage.

    I know from our class blog hit counter that many people are lurking and in their own minds they are engaging as they do feel a connection. They tell me they are when they see me in person!

    I still think many people do not understand or use RSS so they have to actively check out a blog- rather than have the feed come to them. They feel like they are participating by having just read a post.

    If you comment and leave a trackback to your own webspace helps as if someone leaves a comment on my blog I always follow up by tracking back to their blog and reciprocating if a I can.

    I try to encourage them to ‘just leap in’.

  4. Dean Groom

    Glad to see the post sparked a thought.I’m hopelessly lost to the searching for the tenants that being the motivation, fascination and engagement in games and virtual worlds. All of which involve conversation. We are masters of disguise and to one degree or another tune our ‘act’ to suit the venue in the same way a performer plays at intimate, large and at times cabaret venues.

    My brian-spinning conversations; about the stuff I’m really interested in – happens in a relatively small group. The conversations I follow lead me to being able to put in place ideas that I can’t otherwise do on my own. A 6am conversation with kids in Montana this morning; a GoogleDoc the night before and a three hour planning session in Second Life – about a Game-Based-Learning project – in Reaction Grid, to be released at ISTE for US schools.

    So conversation that leads me; are those that take me to physical actions. Doing, making and sharing in spaces that make that very simple. I dislike those people who hold court, purely to tweet and bleat their own public brand to the sheeple — especially when they don’t actually roll up their sleeves and DO anything for students. Like I mention in the post — if you dare take the stage, and are not doing and working with students — watch out. Education and kids have no time to continue to orbit the plank-head conversations about ‘the shift from a to b’ or whether being savvy online matters.

    Always love your blog – and one of the few I continue to comment on. Hope to see ya at CEGSA.

  5. Graham Wegner

    Wow, thanks guys for dropping by and pushing our collective thinking in multiple directions.

    I’ll start with your thoughts, Paul. It would be fair to say that you have become an occasional blogger though you are definitely a regular commenter here. Maybe it’s the shared classroom experience comraderie that means you put forward your ideas here rather than the other blogs that you read. I would propose that maybe reading others’ blogs and comments is like being on the edge of someone else’s fascinating conversation – and one can definitely learn from that and it definitely not a stand and deliver experience. I have said before it is possible for me to learn from people who don’t know that I exist in the manner you describe by monitoring their online conversation. I would agree with Allanah that there is even more to gain by engaging personally in commenting or trackbacking as you commit your emerging thoughts to a public forum that allows someone to push back to you personally. But I don’t certainly comment on all posts that I could – but I can learn from the to-and-fro that happens between a particular blogger’s regular participants.

    And yeah, getting my students into a two way conversation with me and each other about their learning is pretty important. My student blogs give me an opportunity that I should make more time to participate in conversation wise.

    Allanah, I like your point about how lurkers possibly view their involvement. I’ve had the same experience at conferences where someone will tell me that they really enjoy my blog and start conversing with me on a more familiar level than one normally experiences when meeting someone for the first time. This is different again from meeting someone who you HAVE traded comments with – that is definitely a case of mutual familiarity that is unique in its own way. But with the first group, it is a little frustrating that the lurkers don’t just “leap in” but everyone has their own comfort levels about online interaction. At least they are reading and have awareness of connected learning.

    Dean, so does this mean you are coming over to Adelaide again? I still feel bad about not taking up your invitation to hang out with you, Al, Lauren and KerryAnn – but at heart, I am a homebody, and I very rarely give up the evening family routine without some fore planning. I was actually thinking of blowing off CEGSA this year to play golf with some mates but you may have just changed my mind. Anyway, enough insider talk.

    I really liked the original post of yours – partly because it read like one of my ” throw it out there and see if it makes sense” posts. I too have a small group where the best conversations unfold – partly because of the trust you wrote about, and because I feel more at home with the non-mainstream perspective. These people reside in my Must Reads folder in my Google Reader – some of whom I’ve been trading words with for over four years. I am a conservative person by nature (not by politics) and engaging with the more radical and committed educators has helped draw some of that self doubt away for me. It has certainly help to inject much needed cynicism and skepticism when confronted by the gurus that our education systems seek to worship and deify. Keeping in conversation with the boundary pushers is key to staying fresh in one’s own practice and learning – but you’re right, they’d better be working with and for real students if they want anyone to really heed their words with any heightened regard.

    As a small footnote, I’d comment more often on your blog except you post so damn often!

  6. Graham Wegner

    Hi, Jenny. I’m sorry to be writing a delayed comment back to you. For some weird reason, your comment was stuck in my spam filter!

    I can relate to your point of view in terms of how to convey the benefits of online connection to colleagues who are “time poor”. The reality is that it’s a bit like the old saying “You have to spend money to make money.” Except, you have to spend time initially online building the PLN and then the just-in-time benefits flow more readily, saving time. Many teachers won’t make that investment, possibly because they have been scared off by many of the overzealous cybersafety media coverage. (An article in the AEU Journal was also pushing this line of teachers being as anonymous as possible online.) There’s also the possibility of an unwillingness to commit to something they don’t fully grasp or comprehend. And increasingly, I am finding it a difficult thing to easily explain.

  7. Paul Wilkinson

    I know, I know. I have become a very occasional blogger. Partly it is that I just feel so extremely busy that blogging doesn’t rise high enough up the priority list. Partly too it is because mostly I blog for myself rather than with any real sense of an audience. This is where my sense of connection to a network is weaker at the moment than it could be. Your response has answered my thought really nicely and is why I bother to comment on your blog. It is the sense of connection that is valuable and more than just reading a blog post and thinking “good point” I often read your posts and think “Wow that is just what I was thinking about the other day” or “I feel that frustration too” or “far out, that is a better way of looking at this issue”.

    I smiled at your coment about meeting people in person who may have heard of you online but who have never communicated with you. If I ever get back to Adelaide I’ll be sure to look you up and introduce myself first. πŸ™‚

    Very occasionally I feel guilty for not blogging more often but not for long. I am looking forward to Easter and a camping holiday away from electricity (not even a cell phone connection). Yippeee

    Just to encourage you. You are absolutely correct that one of the reasons I do read your blog and bother to comment is because you are in the classroom walking your talk. I have been on the other side of the fence as an ICTPD facilitator and I hope at the time I was sympathetic but just from the nature of the role I’m sure some teachers experienced me as and unqualified (sometimes unwelcome) voice because I was no longer a classroom teacher. I find it really encouraging reading the thoughts of people like you and Allanah because I know you are also struggling with the day to day stuff that is the life of the teacher. Right now I am enjoying being back in the class and that is the focus of my energy.


  8. Allanahk

    I agree with Paul totally about the role of the ICT facilitator. I think the same way about all consultants being literacy, numeracy. ICT or whatever. I think that’s all for you, in theory, but, I am tasked with actually doing this and dividing my time equally among everything.

    Being a primary school teacher in a small school with no specialist teachers, I have to be everything to every one- from swimming coach, to reading teacher and social worker to parent confidant.

    I liken it to juggling and having to keep all the balls in the air. It is already nearly the end of term one and I feel there is more undone than ticked off.

    Blogging does give me a sense of community- I’m not the only one. Here I am now at school on Sunday afternoon and there are four out of six of us at school doing the business- do people understand- sometimes not.

  9. Lyn Tiernan

    Thanks Graham, for all the great conversations. I’ve been listening! I try to check in with blogs I follow and nings at least once a week but in the busy-ness of life it doesn’t always happen. I’m sorry I missed this one because I really do enjoy your insightful comments and you steer me away from my comfort zones and self/school absorption.


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