Where to start?

Holli posted a great comment on the last post basically asked, “Where the heck do I start with all these Web 2.0 technologies?

I posted a few practical leads in my response, but I wanted to respond a little more theoretically here.

Retired Education Professor, Allen Tough, in his 1971 book entitled The Adult’s Learning Project, posits that adults continually set-up learning tasks and projects for themselves.

  • The average adult spends 700 hours a year working on these learning projects
  • Some spend as much as 2000 hours; some as little as 100 hours
  • 70% of these learning projects are self-directed

The third point is worth noting carefully. Seventy percent of adult learning is conceived of and carried out by the person themselves. In a real sense, this is the foundation of life-long learning. I won’t go into the implications of this for the adult students we teach, but one doesn’t have to think too hard to see that it would/could shape our instruction and our curricula.

But I wanted to focus on us: online professors working in geographically diverse places. I believe, we too, approach our learning and professional development as a series of projects to be undertaken. We get the itch to “do” something (spice up our teaching, communicate our instruction more clearly, write a paper in our field, whatever it is!) and we set-up a learning project for ourself. The steps in learning are often a mix of formal learning activities (take a class or workshop) or less formal activities (asking a colleague for advice or googling a term). We then evaluate and synthesize these inputs based on the outcomes we set up for ourselves. It could be developing a certain new skill or acquiring/constructing new personal knowledge for ourselves or contributing to our field of scholarship.

Now, back to the topic at hand: new technologies and the Web 2.0! When confronted with the massive amount of choices for technologies (as evidenced in the last post), we wilt just thinking about the sheer volume of possibilities. This is normal! But when we conceive of a learning project that will scratch the itch of something that we want to do, then it is possible to set goals and ultimately evaluate progress against those goals. We don’t have to tackle, understand and master all of the new, emerging Web 2.0 technologies, rather we can be pragmatic and learn what we need to complete our learning project. (And it is important here to mention that our individual learning projects often lead to other projects that we want to undertake, and often scaffold on top of each other nicely.)

It is important to consider the primacy of informal networks in getting started. When I am undertaking a new learning project about technology, I ask friends and colleagues what they are doing with technologies (increasingly with my twitter network); I poke around a variety of blogs and news sites; I take advantage of CTL/IL presentations and workshops. Sometimes it is just exploratory (looking for ideas); sometimes it is very directed to find specific answers to questions. But these are my leads to follow up on. Some may lead to dead-ends and some may be terrifically useful. In either case, it gives me someplace to start!

Lastly, more and more, I consider the Web 2.0 to be a place where I can create my own Personal Learning Environment. I want that environment to be as frictionless as possible. And my ideal technologically enhanced environment would have the following characteristics:

  1. have easy access to lots of data and information, (rss, twitter, targeted google searches, social bookmarking searches, library searching)
  2. be able to quickly scan content for relevancy (rss reader)
  3. store information (leads) for immediate or future use, (social bookmarking, personal wiki like tiddlywiki, evernote)
  4. sift through my store of information based on the learning project that is currently on my plate or is emerging (bookmarks, wiki, evernote)
  5. reflect on and synthesize information through writing, creating presentations and other outputs like video or audio. (blog, personal wiki, audio, video, etc.) (These can be simply for personal use or to test ideas out on a smaller group of people.)
  6. present my more polished ideas to a wider audience for feedback and collaboration. (depending on what I want to learn). (blog, collaborative wikis, podcasts, vidcasts, screencasts, etc.)

I want my technology mix to be as fluid as my learning style and to be able to handle the multiple projects that I am juggling at any given time.



One response to “Where to start?

  1. Holli Vah Seliskar

    Thank you for the response Will, as I often feel overwhelmed with the amount of technology that continuosly emerges! I just started to get into Ning…and now Twitter and other sites are already starting to seem a bit more refined, and a little easier to follow and use.

    Overall, if I take one task at a time, and focus on what I need to do and know NOW, versus trying to learn and do everything at once, I will slowly but surely find my way amongst the ‘Techies’ of Today!

    Are there any sites that you recommend or journals that you think would be a good read, that focus primarily on new and emerging technologies, etc.?

    Best Regards,
    Holli Vah Seliskar

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