I haven’t been to an #edtech conference in person for a long time. Most of my professional development for the past few years has been through live streaming and/or following twitter chats. Many of these events have been very fulfilling as they offer me new view points and resources to use in my field. They open me up to new people and networks. They expand my view of what education can be. Most weeks I engage in a few streams and/or chats. I find them to be very cost effective ways to keep current with some trends in higher ed and I get introduced to a bunch of diverse people/concepts/approaches.
This was also the case with #flexlearning2015, although unlike the live streams and tweets, I witnessed a lot of the things I’d forgotten about with in person events. A lot of the time people go to these events to be told HOW to do something. From my experience, this usually ends up being a fruitless venture. People go to these workshops, create an account in *new thing* and don’t end up using it much (if at all). We all hear people say “I have an account in *new thing*, but I hardly ever use it. This is what I see as the main problem with this approach to professional development: it is way more complex than just learning/using *new thing*. There has been a sea change occurring in education for some time and it will not be tamed with *new thing*. There may be no way at all of ever taming it. These transformations are what make education what it is – constantly learning new approaches to teaching.
Although I may sound naive here, I truly believe that unpacking the complex issues that orbit the use of technology in the classroom is something that most people don’t do. This is mostly because of resources and exposure. If you have been teaching for many years, you usually just do not have the time to research or engage in contemporary practices. When you have intense professional and personal commitments, adding nuanced pedagogical research to your plate is often impossible. So what do you do? You go to a conference/seminar/workshop on themes that you are expected to work into your practice. And what happens in these spaces is people expect to take a bunch of notes or ‘get their hands dirty’ with this tool or that, return to their jobs, and somehow start incorporating said tool(s) into their practice.
Having used some form of online educational tools for over a decade now, my motto when I consult is that using these tools is akin to playing an instrument. And I have never heard of someone who sat at a piano once every few months and became a decent player. Same with guitar. Or accordion. You cannot become proficient in pretty much anything if you only use it once in a while. Although practice does not necessarily make perfect, it sure can help.
But how do you find the time to practice? If you want to learn how to use *new thing* in your classes or organization, where/how do you do it? You’re looking to go paperless – how do you know which tool to use? Let me assure you, usually a conference is not going to tell you. Conferences are meant as a way to share ideas, projects, and dreams. To connect with people and to help you understand how complex *new thing* or *anything* may be to master. They are usually not meant to teach you how to play guitar, but are more about listening to how the guitar is being played in different contexts. And when you find someone playing the way you picture yourself playing, you start playing more yourself. You start following other people who play. And you do it everyday. Even if its only for five minutes. Take that five minutes every day. Or at least book it into your schedule a few times a week.
If you do this, you will become much better at *new thing* or *anything* really. When you get better at one *new thing* you will, usually, be able to transfer some of those skills to *some thing*. When you learn guitar, you can move some of those elements to a bass or cello.
What do you think? Does the instrument analogy work for you? Have you ever tried to learn an instrument? Do you think it could be compared to learning new teaching methods? Was the time you put in worth it?