I could go on and on about all the people I met, all the new ideas I got, and all the exhibitors I smiled at as they gave me their spiel, but I won’t. What I will do is write about the things that really got me thinking – those things that I will carry with me in the next days, months, or longer as I contemplate my lesson plans (yes, I’m re-entering the teaching world – as an online teacher).
There were a few different incidents that each provided me with one piece to the big picture of what is weighing on my mind after attending NECC.
My first real experience during NECC (and this was my first NECC, as well), was my Monday morning presentation. I presented a session with 5 co-presenters on “Creating a Personal Learning Network in Second Life”. This was quite an experience and I won’t go into details, but after the session, I had the opportunity to read David Warlick’s “live blog” which he had posted during the session and one of the comments he made really got me to thinking. During my portion of the presentation, I had mentioned that what convinced me of the relevance of Second Life(tm) as a part of my network was one evening when I had the opportunity to talk to a teacher from Brazil. David Warlick’s comments about that statement were that he wasn’t sure that was really enough.
I have to say I gave it a LOT of thought. It matters to me what people think of statements I’ve made, and I have always prided myself on being able to give myself an objective eye when I hear that someone doesn’t necessarily agree with me. So I reflected. What I’ve come up with is that David is absolutely correct. Having an opportunity to talk to a teacher from another country in and of itself is not sufficient evidence for using Second Life(tm) as a part of my network. It does enhance my cultural exposure, certainly, but is that relevant to my classroom? For me, it WAS enough, but only because I was a science teacher who happened to be trying to find teachers abroad who would be interested in collaborating on a weather data gathering project with my class. Information from a class in Brazil would have been massively valuable to my students in rural Texas. That said, I believe a teacher really should evaluate what is valuable to their classroom. Simply having access to a teacher from overseas isn’t enough. What you might be able to do with that access might be.
“Cool” experiences don’t make relevant experiences.
The next thing that struck me was when I attended a paper presentation being conducted by Abbie Brown. In his presentation, he put forth that, in order for us to use Second Life(tm) (and I add, or any other online technology), we have to have a reason why that technology is the only venue for that particular activity. For him, he discovered that office hours were something very beneficial in Second Life(tm). He proposed that the reason Second Life(tm) was better than using email to converse with his online students might be that in a virtual world, where we have an avatar standing with us, talking to us, reacting to us in much the same way as a real person would in “real life”, there is a stronger emotional commitment to the activity and thus, a better retention of what was said. As I head into the world of being an online educator, I will take this into consideration as I plan methods for my interactions with my students. They obviously won’t have access to Second Life(tm) – Abbie Brown’s students are all adults – but I may be able to find ways to make the interactions less virtual and more “real.”
There has to be a reason why a given venue/activity is the venue/activity you choose.
Next, I began to notice, as I met some of the people I had come to revere in the education world, that they aren’t all necessarily what I’d held them out to be. Some of them, like Wesley Fryer, Jeff Utecht, and others proved to be just as personable and sincerely passionate about education as I thought they would be. Others, who I will not name, gave me an eye-opener. First truth I realized . . .
The big dogs aren’t always what they seem.
To be a discerning young teacher, you have to take what they all say and examine it critically. Make sure that they are speaking with a focus on what is best for students, not what is best for their pocketbook.
What I brought out of all of these revelations this week is this – I demand from myself a responsibility to be more discerning. Whether I’m looking at opinions of respected education professionals, planning what technology to use in my lessons, or determining how to go about my own professional growth, I must establish for myself a protocol for discernment. I cannot use technology for the sake of technology, I cannot use technology for the “coolness” factor, and I absolutely cannot forget the reason I’m doing it all — for the impact on my students!
Rice is a nutritional food. It is sometimes considered filler, but it is actually full of sustaining nutrients. Technology should be the same, full of enriching content, memorable experiences, and sound educational results. So . . . as we always do in the education world, I’ve created an acronym for myself to remember: RICE. For me to use it, there must be Relevance – there has to be a reason behind it that is valid, Impact – the product of the activity must deliver a reasonable impact, Cost-effectiveness – in today’s world, I should be able to find an activity that is close to free, and Experience – the experience that lives in my student’s mind must be a positive one, one that they have an emotional bond with, so that they will remember it. If I am teach my students for the short term, I might as well pop a movie in the DVD player.