Well, I am currently riding the red-eye flight from Honolulu to Dallas, and have slept a good bit of the time. I now find myself awake, however, and looking at the clocks it appears it is 5:34 am US Central time, and 1:34 am Hawaii time. We’ve been in the air almost five hours, and just just crossed over the western coastline of the United States and are now over California.

I have just listened to Ewan McIntosh’s keynote for the K-12 Online Conference, and am actually listening to his preso a second time and now taking notes on it. If the K-12 Online Conference had just been a traditional conference this would not have been possible: I would have had ONE OPPORTUNITY to listen to his ideas, and if I didn’t “get” or understand something the first time that would be too bad. Not so with an online conference in which the presentations are shared in an asychronous format. There is POWER here, POWER which I did not have access to in my own formal education. This is POWER I want my own children to have access to in their formal and informal educations, and it is exciting (as I probably mention quite a lot here) to be living in a time when such transformational power over the publishing and sharing of information is accessible to so many.

Ewan asked metaphorically in his keynote: “How did we know in the past what we were learning in professional development?” My answer to this is: We didn’t and often still don’t know what teachers are learning via professional development because we persist in “spray and pray” models of training. Often session surveys and assessments are conducted to see how presenters did in the eyes of the participants, but LEARNING is not actually measured in any complex, authentic way at most conferences, district or regional professional development meetings.

Ewan raised some great points in his podcast when he related how he asks kids “the class they enjoy the most,” and then asks them about “their best teachers.” He points out, correctly I think, that the answers you get to these questions are often not the same. Sometimes, and perhaps most often, the teachers students identify as the best are the ones who challenge and stretch them the most. This reminds me of some ideas I’m reading now in “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi regarding pleasure and enjoyment. Csikszentmihalyi claims that pleasure does not take effort, but enjoyment does: because we have to invest our “psychic energy” in the activity. On page 46 of the book he writes:

Enjoyment is characterized by this forward movement: by a sense of novelty, of accomplishment. Playing a close game of tennis that stretches one’s ability is enjoyable, as is reading a book that reveals things in a new light, as is having a conversation that leads us to express ideas we didn’t know we had. Closing a contested business deal, or any piece of work well done, is enjoyable. None of these experiences may be particularly pleasurable at the time they are taking place, but afterward we think back on them and say, “That was fun” and wish they would happen again. After an enjoyable event we know that we have changed, that our self has grown: in some respect, we have become more complex as a result of it.

Experiences that give pleasure can also give enjoyment, but the two sensations are quite different. For instance, everybody takes pleasure in eating. To enjoy food, however, is more difficult. A gourmet enjoys eating, as does anyone who pays enough attention to a meal so as to discriminate the various sensations provided by it. As this example suggests, we can experience pleasure without any investment of psychic energy, whereas enjoyment happens only as a result of unusual investments of attention. A person can feel pleasure without any effort, if the appropriate centers in his brain are electrically stimulated, or as a result of the chemical stimulation of drugs. But it is impossible to enjoy a tennis game, a book, or a conversation unless attention is fully concentrated on the activity.

I think what Ewan is getting at in asking students which class was their favorite and who was their best teacher has a lot to do with this distinction between pleasure and enjoyment, as Csikszentmihalyi defines the terms.

Ewan encourages us to think about and focus on the idea of “teachers as learners.” I totally agree with him on this. He observes that MANY TEACHERS ARE CLOCK WATCHING when it comes to professional development. This reminds me of the last few conferences I’ve attended and participated in relating to learning and educational technology. The Region 9 (Wichita Falls, Texas) technology conference back in October provided a classic example of the way we tend to measure professional professional development most often in these types of conferences. What was the measurement method? STICKERS ON A WORKSHEET AWARDED BASED ON SEAT TIME. The similarity to my own daughter’s first grade classroom where the students “fill their honey pots” with a positive consequence for good, compliant behavior was striking. My session at that conference on “Enhanced Search Strategies” was attended by over one hundred people, and they formed quite a long line after the session literally “getting their sticker” for having attended my session and sitting politely in a chair in the room for 45 minutes while I talked (and did ask a few questions, as well as provided some time for small group discussion, I will add.) I am not condeming all “sit and get” professional development here, but am highlighting the accuracy of what Ewan is talking about regarding CLOCK WATCHING teachers. Our educational systems tend to strongly reinforce CLOCK WATCHING by both students and teachers. I think CLOCK WATCHING is a carry-over from the 19th century industrial factory-model of education, and it is high-time we adopt educational paradigms which move beyond and transcend CLOCK WATCHING. This goes for teacher professional development also.

Ewan also challenges us (in his K-12 online podcast keynote) to think about how many “top classes” in our schools now are still taught primarily via lecture. His challenge is similar to the message I had in my “Upgrading Mindware” session during HLA 2006– we need to think about those activities which we do now as “synchronous, non-interactive” learning activities (like non-interactive lectures) and consider how much of that content can be “off-loaded” to online/offline time when students are not necessarily face to face with each other or their instructor. That way the intrinsic value and possiblities of the FACE TO FACE environment can be realized, and as Ewan says we can focus on INTERACTIVE learning experiences when we are physically in the same place and time as other learners (and the teacher) which challenge us to think DEEPER rather than just memorize and regurgitate information accurately.

When i was thinking about these sorts of topics on my flights out to Hawaii a few days ago, I was reminded of my own biology class experience in college. I remember the lead instructor was adamant that everyone memorize the “Krebs cycle.” Like everyone else in the class, I did my best to memorize it, but today I find that I only have a vague idea of what it meant. If I had online access I would visit the WikiPedia article for the “Krebs Cycle” now (I’ll link it here later before I post this) to read more about it. The point is that in my education at that time, the focus was on memorization and regurgitation. We certainly could have utilized a variety of different video lectures (probably on VHS tape I guess, personal computer technology was just getting started in the fall of 1989 when I took that course and did not include video/multimedia like it does today. I find myself wishing that more of my REQUIRED technical classes as an undergraduate (especially Electrical Engineering, Engineering Mechanics, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry) had focused more on interactive labs and collaborative experiences than on bookwork and memorization.

I think one of the big fallacies and elephants in the rooms about learning, at least in my own college experience, was that all the students were reading the assigned material for class each session we met. Yes, there were certainly some classes that I did read all the material before each class as I was supposed to, but those classes were honestly few and far between. More often I would go to class and take notes, and possibly skim the assigned material– particularly if I had to complete an assignment for that day. Based on my notes, the handouts from the instructor, any assignments or worksheets we completed, and usually some cursory skimming of the assigned material I would manage to pass tests and complete assignments. This varied a lot, of course, depending on the course and the assignments which were required. But even in classes that required daily homework which was assessed, like the Calculus class I took as a freshman in college, the focus was much more on getting the answer right (the same answer that was worked out in the book) rather than truly understanding the concepts and taking ownership of them myself. I simply had too many things I had to do each day to physically have time to read all the assigned materials for class– even though I was probably a pretty decent reader speed-wise. Had I been provided with video podcast versions of class lectures would I have learned more? Undoubtedly I would have. I was freqently traveling away from class as a member of the college debate team, and it would have been WONDERFUL to have a video iPod full of the class lectures that I both missed an attended. As I said, however, not of this technology was available at the time I was an undergraduate student from 1988-1992.

So on a very personal level, I resonate with these ideas Ewan discusses of needing to make learning that is F2F (face to face) more interactive and focused on authentic concept mastery. Ewan also talks in this podcast, however, about the importance of remembering that all learning activities of value CANNOT BE DIGITIZED. This is also a great point we should all remember, and I need to be reminded about often. My personal online workshop curricula site is, after all, titled “Teach Digital.” (teachdigital.pbwiki.com) This title by itself seems to imply a contention that all learning should move into a digital environment. While I certainly do think that an increasing amount of our instruction, collaboration, and knowledge product creation should move into the digital space, I really do have a neo-luddite (or as I talked about a couple of years ago at the Texas state computing in education conference, a member of the “Luddite Litterati”) which makes me resonate with those who emphasize the value of FACE TO FACE experiences and interactions.

I know this blog post is getting long, but I rationalize that for myself by remembering that anyone who is bored with this long post can and will just stop reading– and that is fine, since no one is paying for these ideas and I’m sharing them more to help myself process the ideas Ewan shared in his podcast than anything else. As Ewan mentions in the podcast also, there are many reasons for educators to blog, and one of the most important is to use blogs as tools in our own continuing learning process. As a self-proclaimed reflective practicioner, I am committed to continually learning and growing in my ideas about what it means to be both a novice and expert learner in different contexts in the 21st century. Sharing my discoveries and ruminations about learning (and often also about technology) via my blog is a powerful way of both processing ideas, documenting them for later reference myself, and also sharing them with a wider audience that in all liklihood will contribute back comments and feedback which will in turn further assist in my own journey of professional development.

Well, I think that’s enough listening and writing for now on this red eye flight. I think I’ll try to get a few more winks of sleep! How fun and amazing it is to be at 32,000 feet above the earth’s surface probably going somewhere around 600 miles per hour, and be taught by an innovative edcuator from Edinburgh, Scotland who is an entire continent and other ocean away from me in physical terms– but right here in my headphones in virtial terms. Long live the K-12 Online Conference! šŸ™‚

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One Response to Reflections on Ewan’s keynote on Professional development

  1. […] In Reflections on Ewan’s Keynote on Professional Development, Wes Fryer links together nicely Ewan McGregor’s presentation from the K12 Conference (Professional Development… With Fries) with a book which has been on my reading list for a while by an author whose surname I can’t pronounce! (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience) […]

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