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“Where Do I Start?”: Beginning the Digital Journey in the Classroom

You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.  

~H.G. Wells

There is a scenario becoming all too familiar: a group of people, perhaps teachers, sitting in a meeting, attending a conference, or even sharing a meal, when the conversation turns toward technology. As people share insights, exchange favorite sites, debate the use of digital tools and spaces, some people simply shut down. Or if they’re brave, they may share, with often a hint of frustration: “I don’t even know where to start.” And they are brave. You are brave. How do any of us know where to start? Learning something new becomes even more problematic and powerful when we realize that learning is not simply learning to do something; learning also means becoming another kind of person. It's an identity shift or even a loss of identity. As one colleague shared with me recently, “I’m not a geek and never will be, but I also feel like new ideas are passing me by every time someone says Diigo, Prezi, Twitter…it’s simply overwhelming.”

I’d like to take a small step towards exploring the question “where do I start?” when thinking about new technologies. But instead of leading with something that may cause varying degrees of anxiety, I’d like you to consider something more positive first: Think about something you’ve learned to do well. Perhaps you are a proficient baker, mechanic, soccer coach, bargain shopper, or musician?

I’ll give you a moment.

Now ask: How did I learn to do that or become that person? What resources and material conditions mattered as I developed an identity around this activity? What spaces mattered? What mentoring did I receive? How did I learn to be a part of the discourse community that surrounds that activity?

Another moment.

When I ask students to answer these questions, it is because I want them to think about learning, particularly the social nature of learning. I also want them to remember that learning to be a certain kind of person—a person who plays the guitar or a person who writes—is made up of a complex ecology of mentors, activities, spaces, tools, and language. Even as we become mentors ourselves in areas of interest, we often realize that we’re never really done learning how to be this person, never really done thinking, improving, or innovating.

My hope would be that you could take this feeling of competence in some task--combined with an understanding that learning to do something you feel good about is complicated--and apply that to your approach to learning about digital spaces and tools. What resources might you need? What spaces matter? Who could function as a mentor? Where could you start?

The resources in this collection start with that final premise: How do teachers get started? What can we learn from the digital journey of other educators? The resources here function both as stories of teachers who struggled and figured something out and as examples you might start with in your own classroom. The stories are compelling and the work they did with students is doable. 

Joe Wood narrates his first technical adventure, Renee Webster shares a low-tech, but high impact classroom structure involving her young students' "book talks," Jason Shiroff offers a look into the use of wikis, Leslie Moitoza models how to be both author and teacher of multimodal texts, and Janelle Bence helps us to imagine how we might expand our own knowledge through inquiry.  All of these teachers—Joe, Renee, Jason, Leslie, and Janelle—offer us a place to start.

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Comments

Dave Boardman's picture

Recently, when working with a group of teachers I was struck by how often I heard the refrain, "I'd like to do some digital writing with my students, but I just haven't had the time to figure out how to start," nearly the same words used in your introduction, Kim. I think what seemed out of place in the comments was that they were coming from relatively new teachers, people who use Facebook, date online, read with a Kindle, listen to Pandora - all the slick 21st century stuff, but then go to their classroom and are surrounded by stacks of paper, their students' laptops used as portable typewriters if they're used at all.

This collection reminds me that trying something new - breaking across that chasm between "school" and "life" can be difficult, particulary when the schema of school, the notion of what it has for centuries meant to teach and learn, has partly been about direction, the "one-authority," teacher at the front scenario that is challenged by a room of students armed with computers and a world of teachers available on the www. And it seems it's also about where we've learned our craft of teaching, and what gatekeepers we as teachers need to pass through to stay professionally employed. One supervisor encouraging technology use can empower a teacher's foray into the world of teaching and learning in a digital environment; a scowl at a room of students working with technology can send the technology away just as quickly.

I'm glad to see you describe this as a journey, Kim. Sometimes it's a journey with a GPS that's constantly recalculating, and sometimes sending me in the wrong direction for a brief time until it all falls together. But I think my students and I are always a much further along writing digitally. There's certainly more to see on the way. One of the biggest things I've learned along the way though, is that sometimes, my students have a better approach to get to the goals we're trying to achieve, and that it's OK to experiment with computers. We learn by doing and there's always a restart button somewhere.

Glad to see this collection here!

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl Admin's picture

I really like that image of the GPS constantly recalculating. That sounds very much like the experience of teaching in an inquiry mode when there is a general destination, perhaps some points of interest on the way, built into the route planner, but lots of twists and turns that require recalculating.  Thanks Dave, for that.

psimon's picture

During the ISI, we have established a tight-knit community of learners who are invested in progressing in our own practices.  United by our common goals and a developed, shared language, we now attempt to articulate the experience to the best of our abilities.  After exploring the theories that grounded our experience here, we constructed a representational model of the artifacts and practices we use in the classroom as both teachers and learners.  Our model shows the overlapping practices that all educators must utilize.  The model shows an overlapping triangle and circle.  If we begin with triangle, this construct represents the physicality of our profession.  We use practices and artifacts to construct meaning and connection inside the classroom.  We create these by exploring, envisioning, and enacting.  The three Es do not exist on a linear continuum, but instead are an ever evolving introspective process.  We begin with an idea we want to explore and envision how to enact upon it, but at any point we must feel free to enter the continuum at different point in order to re-evaluate.  As educators, when we begin to re-envision or visit another point along the triangle's progression, we now move into the outer circle of our practice.  Reflection and evolution are the tools an educator uses to take risks, explore new ideas, and new practices in order to put these new ideas into action.  The final component of our model, the sticky note collage, are the tools educators use in our practice.  The words explore, envision, and enact exist outside of the circle and triangle in order to show that we must draw from these tools.
 
 

By: Kim Bugger, Danielle Case, and Pat Simon

kjaxon's picture
Collected by Kim Jaxon
on Jan 11 2012

Resources in this collection

Becoming a Fearless Explorer
Hearing Student Voices
Using Wikis at the Primary Level
Rethinking Composition in a Multimodal World
How do I teach what I do not know?