Linda asked us to describe one of our student-centered learning experiences. Ever the over-achiever, I will describe two:
1 – Becoming a Blogger
A friend of mine blogs about the natural world. One day, he suggested that I should blog. I laughed and said I really had nothing to write about… but I started a blog anyway. I quickly discovered that writing a blog isn’t creating a platform for teaching. Writing a blog is a way of creating for myself deep learning.
I’m a naturalist – largely self-taught. I tramp through the woods with my camera photographing whatever catches my eye. I return to my desk and use field guides and other references to learn about my finds. Then I have words – which are googleable. I search the internet looking for more information. Then I craft it all into posts on my blog.
I do all this, not because it is assigned, but because I am driven, because I am passionate about my personal discoveries. Writing about them may end up teaching others… but that’s not why I blog. Writing about them helps me make sense of all the inputs – natural, book, and web. It helps me remember what I’m learning… or at least know exactly where to go to find my notes on what I looked up!
The interviewer asked Will Richardson if he was concerned that web technologies would diminish students’ abilities to engage in deep reading and deep thinking. It hasn’t worked that way for me. I find I read more sources, become more discerning about what are the reliable sources, discover who is copying from whom, etc… all because, as Will stated, I am passionate about the content; it is relevant to me.
2 – Digital Photography Class
Last fall, I enrolled in a traditional lecture-based class at the local community college in order to learn more about digital photography. The approach taken by the teacher, combined with my insatiable thirst to follow after the bits and pieces that resonate with me made this class one of the richest I have ever taken. Linda described that in this class – EC&I 831 – she is learning more and faster than ever before. That was the case with me last fall, too. (And it’s happening again for me in this class.)
My instructor did not require the use of web technologies. He did, however, use web resources to teach us not just about our cameras, but about photography as an art form.
Will mentioned in the interview that if he were going to teach teachers about having a web presence, he would offer a blogging workshop in which the PRE-REQUISITE was to go start a blog and learn how the software works. Then in the workshop you could talk about how to use blogs in education.
This photography class was sort of like that. There were a few brief lessons on which buttons to push and why; for the most part, though, we were expected to learn how to work our own cameras. The bulk of the course was an overview of some masters of photography… forcing us to consider why we want to make photographs in the first place. Every photo Mark showed us, every name he dropped, I googled later to learn more. I created a learning blog to record what I was learning. I spent SOOOO much time on this class, because, again… I was passionate about it. It was relevant to me. Every once in a while, I go back and post more to that blog, even though the class is over.
I’m not spending quite as much time on this class as I did my blog in the early days, or as I did on my photography class. Still, I spend more time on this than housework and other things I “ought” to be doing! And my brain is constantly busy. I know how the web can work for my own personal learning. Now I want to know how I can use this for extending the mission of the organization I work for… How can it work in informal learning environments like nature centers and museums?
I recently attended the NAAEE (North American Association for Environmental Education) annual conference. I attended several workshops and presentations that involved technology. One was about distance learning – where the instructon was still based a bit heavily on the talking-head model, though some interaction with the audience occured and students were encouraged to go out and explore their own environs after the lesson. One showed how Google books can be used to perform research that was never possible when I was in school! Wow! (The presenter searched Thoreau’s books for flora and fauna lists in order to compare what he was seeing with what is there now.)
By and large, however, the majority of the participants do not believe that technology is useful in getting kids connected to the natural world.
I don’t agree. I think I will have to play the role of the early adapter and lead the way. I’m just not sure how to get started.