A couple of weeks ago, my student Megan Douglas uploaded a video, aiming to share the story of her involvement with Twitter. I thought I knew what was coming. I thought it would be a great story of professional learning, but it was much more than that.
What first struck me about this was the Ugg boots. They stuck out because at that point I realised I had made a huge assumption; that this story started with me. I hear stories all the time of teachers starting stories of professional learning with social media, but this wasn’t just about Megan’s career, it was about her life.
The personal narrative and the learning narrative run hand in hand. Her story as a teenager growing up and her story as a professional and a teacher are not separate. Technology is not just something she has discovered to support her ‘continuous professional development’, it is something she has used to support her life. Ugg boots and making friends are part of this, but social media is not just about the social- it was also part of the life changing process of getting a place at University.
This intertwined narrative of learning means that, for Megan, using these tools is not just an add on. It isn’t some ‘bonus’ activity she tacked on to her standard learning, it is something inseparable from her process of growing up, and it certainly didn’t start with Plymouth University or myself.
When you are doing innovative things, it’s easy to think the story starts with you. It’s easy to disregard the previous experiences learners have, particularly in terms of their use of technology. In the quest for the next exciting idea it is easy to keep shifting on to what seems like the next innovation, but I wonder if perhaps we should instead be starting with asking the learners we work with that important question; ‘Whats happening?‘. Working with articulate and experienced learners in H.E. has made it obvious to me that I need to stop assuming that just because I am trying to innovate that the story starts with me.
Once my students are done with me they go out into the ‘real world’, to jobs, and so their education is meant to end with me. I hope that it won’t do that either. As well as an eye on where they are coming from I think we need to keep an eye on where they are going, and so many of the bottlenecks in the experience of our education system happen at those crucial transition points to the next stage. We need more feed forward in the system, but how can we do that when the future is so uncertain? How could Megan’s teacher in infant’s school fifteen years ago have known to prepare her for a life as a technologically networked teacher?
There is no way in this world they would know that. There is no way in this world that I can know what the careers of the trainee teachers are going to look like in ten years, I am not sure I can even do that for own career. What we can do is concentrate on developing learners who feed forward themselves, who don’t see themselves as finished product when they are done with us, and who keep that learning story going. Again, this is particularly pertinent with areas relating to technology, but I think it is just as important with wider learning; technology just gives us a mirror to see that.
So what are we doing about it? In our department we are supporting students to grow their own professional learning networks using platforms such as blogs and twitter which they own and will not be deleted when they leave University. We are helping them to find each other online by aggregating these disparate resources in one place, and we are encouraging them when appropriate to find others on and off line who can support their learning in specific ways more effectively than we can. We are supporting them to organise TeachMeets to share practice and learning, whilst being careful not to help too much and do it for them.
In just a few years Megan will be a teacher, and she will be able to meet the children in her class where they are. She grew up with this technology, and now she’s supporting children growing up with it and that makes me incredibly excited. We have a generation of people about to go into teaching who have almost grown up in this connected world in the same way the children they will be teaching have. They will not feel that gulf between teachers and pupils, because for them it will not exist.
The assumption that children’s experience of learning through technology starts with them will not be there. I wonder what effect this will have. Let’s hope that any assumptions that learning ends with them, or at least ends with the formal education system, go the same way.