Sunday, May 11, 2008

Can we play Webkins and call it professional development?

Actually, I have never even seen a Webkin, so I've never played with one. I think I need to though! I know some cute 7 year olds who are big fans, so I know where to get help. Has anyone out there played Webkins or Club Penguin? Will I have fun? As a point of reference, I can have fun playing Candyland with two four-year-olds, which is essentially a 3 way game with myself. I think playing with these might be fun and powerful experiences.

There have been a couple of comments on my blog that have gotten me to change the way I think about and design professional development. Kim Cofino's comment about her "wired Wednesdays" made me realize that teachers need to engage in meaningful conversations, not just show teachers "a plethora of tools they may not know [how to use]" I can think of a few conversation starters. I was at a graduation yesterday in which the speaker listed many of the snippets from the Did You Know video. I think of that video as so ubiquitous that "everyone" has seen it, but it turned out that I was the only one in my group who had. (Side question--if the speaker doesn't mention the video, does that constitute plagiarism?) Do other ed tech types have similar experiences? Which leads to the old quote about assumptions. . . I need to work on not making assumptions about what "everyone" has seen/read/heard/done. That leads to Intrepid Flame's comment on the same page asking "How can we slowly encourage people to understand that the future is hear with a sense of urgency, but at the same time not allow them to become defensive?" His words capture the essence of edtech, don't they? The first step is to not act like a "Know it All" as Michele Martin points out on her blog. Not making assumptions is the first step in not acting like a know it all.

I think I can come across as a know it all, even though I regularly feel totally overwhelmed by all I don't know (Google Earth, GPS's, GIS, Scratch, and ArtSnacks come to mind immediately, and I'd love pointers on any/all of those). Is this defensiveness endemic to educational technology?

Technology can make confident, experienced professionals feel uncertain and "dumb." Maybe people forced to take a workshop walk in making assumptions about the people who are leading it (and vice versa). Is it because the solution to a tech tangle can sometimes involve just one or two clicks? This makes the tangled one feel dumb and the "untangler" look like that dreaded know it all. I sometimes remind folks that there are a million things I can't do that they can. I need to get better about emphasizing that when I am providing support.

So, back to the webkins (and Facebook, MySpace, Club Penguin, etc). Aren't these types of activity here to stay? Can teachers hide from understanding them and stay effective and relevant? "Social networking" is a bit of a misnomer to me, since it implies that nothing of intellectual importance is going on within the network. Hey, we're just hanging out, right? For educators, social networking can be a powerful tool for professional growth. There are videos, blogs and wikis on just about any topic one can imagine. How do I find the ones that will help me (as a teacher) learn about ___________? What is the role of technology in encouraging connections among practitioners? When new research emerges, it hits the web long before it reaches the teacher journals that can have more than a year's lag time. Does this matter? Does it matter enough to ask teachers to move out of their comfort zones? It does, but again, fear of the future leads to defensiveness. Maybe play is the answer to breaking down the defensive barrier. So, I'm thinking about going shopping for a few Webkins. Anyone want to play?


Kim Cofino said...

You have so many good points and good questions here! I think the one that stood out for me was:

Technology can make confident, experienced professionals feel uncertain and "dumb."

This is the constant challenge for tech facilitators. How do you help teachers that don't even know what they don't know without sounding like a "know it all"? There is so much to learn, even for those that already seem like "know it alls" that it can seem impossible for others to "catch up."

I think you have to be an expert at meeting people where they're at, and finding ways to engage and excite them about trying something new. Even if it's just a simple step, if it's the correct next step for that teacher, it will lead to more and more steps in that direction.

So, I guess the challenge is finding out where each individual in your school is on their learning journey and ensuring that you provide opportunities for each of them, at the right level. Just like you would in your classroom.

I think one way to do that is to ensure that you offer a wide range of pd options - f2f, one-on-one, team-based, department-based, casual, formal, online, open-ended, etc. Having lots of options means that each person can participate in the format that they feel most comfortable in.

Sarah Hanawald said...

Kim--you've said is so well--"you have to be an expert at meeting people where they're at. . . excite them about trying something new."

Our faculty are incredibly thoughtful about what they do and they process new ideas best through discussion. The more time they get during any group learning experience to talk with each other, the more excitement they have when they leave.

They other key is that wide range of opportunity you've described. We'll keep working on that!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia Ora Sarah.

Lev Vygotsky died in the 1930’s. His groundbreaking work in child development together with his zone of proximal development concept, were truly wonderful studies. But in texts that quote Vygotsky today we are often led to believe that he was still making groundbreaking discoveries in the 1970’s. I often wonder if the misconstrued link with the digital age has been propagated in a similar way.

Digital social networking has been paralleled with studies that have been done on groups of children interacting in the playground. Even those studies have been tinted with a hint of Vygotsky despite his major study being of mother and very young child. In his Mind and Society, Vygotsky admitted that learning took on different aspects as children develop, especially into adolescence, so his studies do not necessarily apply to older age groups. He stated this.

Yet in some circles digital social networking has been held up as the ultimate way for children to learn, based on what we are supposed to have distilled from Vygotsky’s work. For some it is the logical next step that we should use the asynchronous or synchronous-chatroom-type environments as the ultimate tools for learning.

This is not only an unscientific deduction but it also completely out of context, yet I have heard it touted time after time at elearning conferences and read it ad nauseam in pedagogical papers purportedly following Vygotsky’s theories.

Frankly, if Vygotsky were alive today I think he would cringe to learn how his theories are being used in the context of present-day learning technologies.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Sarah Hanawald said...

Hi Ken,
Thanks for the comment on my blog that caused the most research on my part to understand. I've been puzzling over it for several days!

My grasp of Vygotsky is limited to some of my word study and reading work where I worked to determine what a child was "using but confusing" in deciding what to teach. I got really absorbed in your links and the path.

I think you are concerned that I'm thinking about teaching with Webkins? I'm actually just trying to explore them and work with other teachers to try to understand what about them entrances our children. That's the "power" of which I speak.

You mention it is the logical next step that we should use the asynchronous or synchronous-chatroom-type environments as the ultimate tools for learning and I view this with a great deal of skepticism in terms of young children.

The personal connection to a teacher has to be the "ultimate tool for learning" for true learning to take place.

Have you been to I think you'd be impressed with Bill Farren's work. I read your post earlier "About Suffering" and didn't comment simply because I was completely overwhelmed. I'll be back though!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia Ora Sarah.

Sorry to keep you puzzling for several days - that wasn't my intention. Your "great deal of skepticism" indicates that we are in agreement over the application of Vygotsky in the context of what your saying. When I said that "(f)or some it is the logical next step that we should use the asynchronous or synchronous-chatroom-type environments as the ultimate tools for learning", I wasn't saying that I agreed with them! I don't in fact.

But you are right. Of course, I haven't seen a Webkin any more than you have, and my assumption is that the misguided enthusiasm among educators could lead them to apply anything new and technological as a tool to educate (kids or teachers) while rationalising the use of that through tenuous (and dubious) invocation of other theories.

My reference to Vygotsky was also in connection with yours of social networking. This latter seems to me to be overrated, overused and misused at nearly all levels of learning development by some educators - works for some, not others - but I'm even skeptical of where it takes those that use it for themselves and enthuse about it.

Thanks for the link to Education for Well-being, Bill Farren's site looks interesting. I'll have a look.

I wasn't sure what you were completely overwhelmed about over my post "About Suffering". It certainly wasn't my intention to shock anyone. But I was stunned at what I'd seen on the Internet in the context of the disaster.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth