Linked In and Loving It: Learning Up Close and Personal
I remember being in my teens and telling my dad that I really didn’t like my 9th grade physical science class and didn’t really know when I would ever use the stuff we were learning. Dad proceeded to tell me that he believed “no education is ever wasted.” He said that even if you don’t actually use the content you’re learning, you will use the thought processes you’re developing and the concepts you’re learning. This attitude toward learning that Dad handed down to me has served me well and I try to pass it on to my students.
I’ve always felt that I learn best in a traditional classroom environment. As a learner, I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms! After receiving a B.S. in Human Resources Development from Oakland University in 1982, I went to work for the University of Michigan-Flint. During the five years I spent working there, I took an additional 24 credits in a Computer Science Certificate program. This was followed by a three-year hiatus from working outside the home, when I was a stay-at-home mom. I had originally planned to not work for five years, but my son’s school district recruited me for a part-time job, opening and operating elementary computer labs for them. It was during this work experience that I discovered my love of working with young people. During the six years that I worked as a part-time Instructional Technology Specialist for Flushing Schools, I decided to take the 51 credits I needed to get certified to teach. I achieved this goal in 2000 and went to work as a 5th grade teacher for Kearsley Community Schools. During my first year of teaching, I didn’t take any University classes, but I did spend a lot of time in the classroom as a learner, fulfilling the thirty hour State of Michigan professional development requirements for new teachers. This was followed by two years spent in Marygrove Colleges Instructor-on-Site Master’s in the Art of Teaching degree program, which I finished in 2003. As you can see, I’ve been very accustomed to and successful as a learner in a traditional classroom setting.
In 2005, I welcomed a transfer from teaching 5th grade to a position at our middle school teaching an 8th grade Tech Lab class. The Tech Lab course had already been developed by another teacher (my current principal) and was based on the modular technology education concept. The different lab modules had been purchased from a company and I simply had to teach them to myself in order to help my students work through them. The problem with the class was that the modules were outdated even at the time when I took over the course, the company who developed the modules stopped supplying that product line altogether, and the objectives of the course were not aligned with the METS-S (which I knew very little about at that time). Still, the 8th grade Tech Lab class remained a required course at AMS through the 2008 – 2009 school year. Then it became an elective class, which I taught one hour per day. At that time, our district adopted use of a Blackboard course that had been developed in Oakland County for 8th graders called “Using Technology in Career Exploration.” I was asked to break the yearlong course into two ten-week long segments and to teach one segment to our 6th graders and the other to our 8th graders. This was literally my first experience with an on-line course and I really didn’t know what I was doing! I attended a six-hour professional development on how to use Blackboard and then dove in. As I look back on it now, I feel sorry for those students.
My experience in the MAET Program has changed my image of myself as a learner. I now know that I can learn as much or more in a well-designed and well-managed on-line class as I can in a traditional classroom setting. Several of the advantages to online learning I enjoy are:
- I can listen to a lecture or do an assigned reading at a time when my attention span is at its peak.
- Instead of the spontaneous discussion that happens in the classroom, the discussions I have with my classmates in an on-line class are more prepared and well –thought out. In essence, they are higher quality and more efficient.
- Time spent commuting to class can instead be used as learning time.
My experience in the MAET Program has also changed my image of what is most important for my students to learn. I’m now more convinced than ever that one of my most important roles as their Careers and Technology Teacher is to focus on teaching students how to learn. Today at school I was introducing my students to the online brainstorming and mind-mapping tool bubbl.us. Instead of putting my focus on teaching the students how to use the tool, I focused on modeling my search process and “thinking aloud” how to collect resources that would teach me how to use the tool. I felt it was more important to spend my limited instructional time in this way. The bubbl.us tool will likely be replaced by some newer, better, easier to use Web tool. The need for students to be able to teach themselves how to learn to use the new tool will endure.
Even though I have a new-found love of online learning, face-to-face learning experiences remain very valuable to me. Traditional professional development workshops will continue to be part of my personal learning plan. However, I’ve found that I need to be pro-active in my pursuit of learning opportunities that support continuing mastery of new technologies and use of these to support learning in my classroom. Last summer I had a wonderful new learning experience when I attended a three-day Screencasting Camp at Tech Smith’s headquarters in Okemos, Michigan. In a couple weeks, I’ll be attending MSU’s College of Education Technology Conference. I hope to attend the MACUL Conference (for the first time) in March. The content of these events is very valuable. But even more important to me are the connections I make with other educators who attend. I began following one of the educators I met at Screencasting Camp on Twitter. As a result of the MAET program, I have three Facebook groups that are made up of educators who share my interest in educational technology.
The online resources and tools I’ve been introduced to in the MAET program have made me aware that my future as a learner can be quickly, easily, and efficiently customized by me. RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, webinars, wikis and blogs all have an important place in my continuing education. I’ve joined the conversation, I’m linked in, and I love it!