Lately I have been taking the opportunity to participate in the ETS Brainstorming Breakfasts held on Fridays in the lower level of Irving’s Bagels. While I am sure it’s not something my schedule will allow me to attend all of the time, I am finding that it is a great way to start the end of my week. Typically, by the time I hit Friday, I am already fast-forwarding to 5:00pm as my reward for making it through the week. Now I find that I’m looking forward to having discussions about education and technology over a cup of coffee at 9:00am. Obviously, this is a radical departure from my normal Friday morning outlook and, not surprisingly, I think it has a very positive impact on the rest of my day. When I get to my desk an hour or so later, I am still mentally stirring the ideas that we have discussed over the last hour. I am energized and, as I prepare course content during the course of the day, I tend to think about alternative solutions that we might be able to implement in courses I work on during their next revision.
But I do think it’s more than just a cup of coffee and casual conversation.
Don’t get me wrong; I do love the coffee, and I don’t think I’ve ever turned down a chance to talk. *smirk* These kinds of conversations, however, really stimulate my interest in how to apply technology–one of my favorite things ever–to the process of education. Having the chance to interact with people I respect, and meet people who add to my social network, has really been an illuminating experience. It’s almost like finding out the wardrobe doesn’t have a back panel, but opens into another unexpected world. Discussions on the power of social networking, and how to harness it, or using hashtags and wikis to create a powerful backchannel for an event; these are concepts I grok intuitively, but until now, haven’t really been able to explore with others. To me, technology is simply a powerful tool and the power isn’t in the use of technology for the sake of technology, but rather how we use the technology to move toward our defined goals. It’s like the old BASF slogan: we don’t make the course, we make the course better.
Put it another way: several weeks ago at my first BS Breakfast, Brad posed the question “Should we be focused on teaching students about blogs, wikis, and social networking?” My response is that the technology is the vehicle for that education we are giving the students. In an example that I will probably never live down, I likened it to putting broccoli in the macaroni and cheese for my kids. They are there for the macaroni and cheese; however, I tend to add something to the mix so they get an extra benefit to the offering. The broccoli isn’t the draw, but it is something they should be aware of, perhaps even learning to eat it voluntarily (God forbid). Do we need to actually sit students down and teach them how or why to use the wiki? I prefer to think that they learn better by doing. If you have students interacting on a course wiki, not only are they learning the content you are teaching, but they begin to understand some of the collaborative power behind the wiki. This might not be why they are in the course, but it is an aside that, once learned, will help them to navigate in the real world where collaboration is a very powerful tool. This idea was actually met with some surprise as well as agreement, so it made me feel good to put it out there. Now all I have to do is actually come up with more professional examples besides mac’n cheese…
As part of our annual review process, we are to come up with a
Professional Development Action Plan for the coming year. I’ve added
“Becoming a resource in the PSU IT/design community.” I don’t mean to
presume that I will be an expert in any area, but rather that people
will “get to know me!” (sorry; really can’t see that in print without
saying it in my best Jon Lovitz’ boast) and begin to consider me as an
extension of the World Campus and, specifically, ID&D. I think
sometimes we get so caught up in our daily routine of developing
courses that we don’t take the opportunity to seek out others in the
same vocation. A cup of coffee, a chance to share, an opportunity to
learn; these are all things that allow me to be a better team member in
my own work unit. By tapping into these existing communities at Penn State
and fostering these social networking relationships I think it, at
some level, brings these separate work units together, even if only
in an ancillary collaborative way.