Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Learning Experience Overload

This weekend I was fortunate enough to have my district send me to the NYSCATE conference in Rochester, New York. This city seems to be a replica of my native Buffalo, New York with a similar composition of the downtown layout and architecture, but what I loved most about my visit to Rochester, other than the precious time I was able to spend with some of my favorite and well-loved family members, was seeing the illustration of the power of the social networking tools I use in action. Not only was I able to meet some of my fellow Twitterers in real life (IRL), but I was also able to keep my friends up to date in real time of all that I was learning.

Within the first few minutes of my first hands-on session of learning, the presenter and fellow Twit David Jakes asked how many of us were using Twitter. I was one of four of the approximately twenty attendees who raised my hand. As a result of this tool, I was able to keep my followers up to date with countless posts of great ideas and free creative web tools to enhance instruction. Some of my closest friends and followers have since told me that they felt as if they were "right there with me" as a result of my constant updates and tweets.

But I digress; rather, I have not hardly begun to address all that I have learned at this amazing conference. I was fortunate to spend two full-day, hands-on sessions with David Jakes, an instructional technology coordinator in Chicago, Illinois. During the first day-long session with Mr. Jakes I learned how to embed roughly ten different free web 2.0 tools into things I already do like wikis. More importantly, in both of the sessions I attended with Mr. Jakes the first half was spent learning how to use the many tools he is proficient in and the second half was spent applying those tools to my own practice. One of the first things I learned is that there are many interactive web 2.0 tools out there that teachers can embed into their practice.

But rather than list them all, I think that the most important thing I have learned since returning from the conference is that it's not about all the cool tools; it's about how the teacher or leader uses the tools to engage and challenge others to move beyond their current practices and enter into new and exciting conversations about teaching and learning. One way to engage others in these great conversations is to use a social bookmarking site like Del.ic.ious. Since signing up for this free on-line bookmarking tool I have not only found a way to keep track of and organize my favorite websites and resources, but I have also been able to share my favs with others who choose to be in my network. Rather than having a mile-long list of websites in my favorites, I now have a place to track and organize my sites with tags or key terms that apply to the content of the pages. I started my account with roughly 150 bookmarks, but since directing people to join my network and asking for permission to be in theirs, I now have access to over 5000 websites! I can now view the bookmarks of others in my network and then decide whether I want to save those to my own account. Talk about cool tools!

Another cool feature of Del.ic.ious is that once you have an account, free with any email address, you can then use the "subscribe" feature. What's way cool about this is that you can subscribe to a specific tag. For instance, if you were on the hunt for the latest and greatest instructional websites on Google Earth, you could subscribe to the tags "Google Earth" and "instructional tools." Then, when ANYONE in the WORLD who has a Del.ic.ious account finds a website and tags it with those phrases, the sites then appear in your account. You can then skip the searching for hours routine and simply view the site in Del.ic.ious and decide whether or not you want to save to your account. Time is precious and this tool certainly helps to minimize your time spent searching the net.

But even better, since the people in my network are friends, either IRL or on-line, I can discuss with them HOW THEY USE THE TOOL to challenge students, teachers, or other learners. To me, this is the most important aspect of the tool itself. Again, it's not about the tools themselves, but about how educators use the tools in their practice to engage and challenge others.

Here's a simple example of how these tools can challenge learners of all kinds, whether in the field of education or not. A very good friend, and someone who has taught me and helped me to grow a great deal in my professional life, has this wonderful family who has taken an interest in Google Earth and Google Rome. While in another full-day with David Jakes called "Cartography on the Cutting Edge," he had us access his site specific to this topic. I simply tweeted the link on Twitter and my friend, following me on Twitter, then had instant access. Little did I know that she, her daughters, and her husband had just downloaded Google Earth and Rome a few days before. Because of my tweet, they now had access to tutorials and handouts and began learning and exploring instantly. Angela, being a lover of learning, wanted to say thanks and took a Twitpic of her daughter holding a piece of paper that simply said, "Thanks, Mr. Jakes!" and tweeted it. I saw the tweet and burst out laughing in the middle of the presentation! I wasn't trying to be rude, but I was so pleased at the immediacy of the tweets and learning taking place, that I just had to show him. I turned my laptop around, and he was amazed! He asked for permission from my friend to have a copy of the picture and even discussed the incident in his keynote at the NYSCATE banquet later that evening. He, therefore, used the tool to show those in attendance the residual effects of the learning taking place at this conference.

This, friends, is the power that's held in the USE of the tools, not just the tools themselves. So, there's the challenge; find some cool tools, but don't just use them because they're cool. Rather, think of ways in which you can use the tools to help others see the power, relevance, and value of learning.

And in the spirit of the holiday season, try these cool tools posted by Angela to create some meaningful gifts for your family. Thanks, Angela, for always taking the time to share how you use cool tools in your life!


Linda704 said...

Kate, I love these words "don't just use them because they're cool. Rather, think of ways in which you can use the tools to help others see the power, relevance, and value of learning" I have gone to many workshops where "cool" things were demo'd, but w/out a connection, it was just that, something "cool" and likely gone from memory. Such was the case for me with Wordle. Someone showed it to me, but I didn't really see the use for it, until Angela Stockman tweeted a link to the Wordle she created of the NY English standards--and I got it! Later that day my friend posted a Wordle snapshot of his new blog http://www.anewadventure.org/?p=54 which inspired me to do it on mine http://tinyurl.com/6x2qzj So now I see Wordle as a way to give a visual representation to the power of words, and what the author is really trying to say. That never would have happened without my PLN.

Kate Ellis said...

Thanks, Linda. Your words mean a great deal to me and truly illustrate the point I'm trying to make: there are so many cool tools out there, but if you're only using them because they're cool and not taking time to consider the impact on your learners, they're just cool tools.

I'm very glad to have you in my PLN. Thanks for your thoughts.

Angela said...

Wow, I've really been behind in my blog reading. I'm glad you tweeted this tonight. We learned a lot because of you and your willingness to share, and this post is the icing on that cake. Thanks! I'm loving this!