Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

No sidetrips for learning today

Well, this is a first, but I suppose when you do a lot of educational technology workshops for “teacher volunteers” this is bound to happen. I’m in a large Oklahoma school district to teach a workshop on virtual field trips… five teachers registered and confirmed they’d attend, but no one showed up for the workshop! 🙁

I was planning to use an excerpt from David Warlick’s pre-conference keynote for K12Online 2006 about “Derailing Education: Taking Sidetrips for Learning” to frame the discussion. Often I think the learning experiences which can be most memorable and engaging for our students ARE the “side trips” that we take within or from our curriculum and scope and sequence guide. If you buy that, the case for virtual field trips is pretty clear I think.

I visited with an instructional technology director in another district recently about the tremendously negative impact NCLB and high-stakes accountability / summative testing has had on the cause of constructivist learning in US classrooms overall. In many ways, I think we were more advanced pedagogically in the mid to late 1990s when we had a good bit of momentum around programs like HyperStudio and the goal of students creating digital media artifacts of their learning (Interestingly there is currently a WikiPedia article for HyperCard but not one for HyperStudio.) In today’s high stakes accountability environment, side trips for learning like virtual field trips are often regarded as “fluff” which we just don’t have time for in the school day, because the activities and learning experiences students may have through those lessons don’t appear to directly prepare them for “the test.” In many ways we live in a sad day for education… but that is the “glass half empty” perspective. The “glass half full” perspective observes that we have tremendous OPPORTUNITIES today to reshape and transform education, particularly as amazing technology tools are increasingly at our fingertips. (Despite the authoritarian reach of school district firewalls and content filters.)

I am not sure why we didn’t have anyone show up for today’s workshop. I debated whether or not to even blog about this… but many blogs are (at least in my view) about transparency and providing a window into the mind of the writer… so this is where I am and what I’m thinking about today. Yes, we are very close to the Christmas holidays, so perhaps scheduling this workshop during this time was a poor choice. (It was the district’s request, but I had input into the scheduling too.) Perhaps some people had emergencies, perhaps some had parents or children who stayed after school… there are a multitude of possibilities, none of which are likely personal to me. This is actually the fifth workshop I’ve shared this fall with teachers in this particular district, and the past ones have had enthusiastic participation and I’ve really enjoyed them. So I’m not sure what happened today, but likely it has most to do with the date in mid-December before the holidays.

This experience does further reinforce the idea that one-shot professional development as we tend to do it in US public schools today is a relatively poor learning model for teachers or anyone else. Spray and pray PD IS analogous to scattering seed on rocky soil. A few seeds may sprout, and we should do all we can to water and nurture those– but to grow a healthy crop for a decent harvest, we really need to prepare the soil, fertilize, and plant with a more systemic approach. That requires leadership vision on the campus, district, and even state level… And seeds of that type are not planted or grown overnight.







7 responses to “No sidetrips for learning today”

  1. JenniferW Avatar

    Sighs — i would have been there — IN A SECOND.

    Though your possible explanations are reasonable — its just not polite to NOT show without even a call. And for 5 to not show is not fair to you. Perhaps someone had a date wrong???

    And again — as you saw today — we continue to keep plugging away, trying to share our hopes and possibilities with teachers………and sometimes they do hear. And then we continue to the next group…..

    Don’t be discouraged — and I hope it wasn’t a LONG drive for you. And if you want, I will be a virtual attendee and you can share with me (and I bet I could get about 10 more) about virtual field trips.

    Happy Holidays and a VERY BLESSED CHRISTMAS to you!

  2. Kathy Avatar

    You can come and present at my district any time, too! or count me in as a virtual attendee – Jennifer and I will make up a class, and I bet we could get a bunch more- just give us a date and about 3 days notice. I get this type of thing happening to me all the time, and I am an in-district trainer.

  3. Danita Russell Avatar

    WOW! I can’t believe someone would pass up the opportunity to be in one of your workshops. I would have been there come hell or high water.

    I’m with Kathy, you can come and present at my district at any time and I’ll even buy you lunch.

    Keep up the good work – you are an inspiration to people you don’t even know.

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Wow, thanks to all of you for your words of encouragement! Seriously, we should consider a collaborative workshop with your districts sometime this spring, on podcasting, classroom collaborations, or something else. Let’s all give this some thought and then look at some dates….. The drive was about an hour and a half each way, but with a loaded iPod with some good content, the time actually was well spent! Thanks again for the comments. 🙂

  5. Stephen Downes Avatar

    I had the same thing happen to me at the annual distance education conference in Madison, Wisconsin. It was 2002. Four people signed up, but nobody attended. My topic was blogs and RSS in learning. Here are my slides:

    Since then, a few things have happened, I’ve done many more better-attended presentations, and the popularity of blogging and RSS in learning has increased somewhat. So I wouldn’t take it too personally.

    And – I’ll say this. It’s easy to do the popular. It’s easy to jump on a bandwagon or to run out in front of the moving crowd and say ‘follow me’. It’s a lot harder – but a lot more rewarding – to find something of value that nobody else sees, to bring it to the light of day, to make it clear.

    There will be days like the one you had. But there will be other days, days like this, where you look back and say, “I remember when nobody would attend a presentation on…” and you smile knowingly and feel a sense of accomplishment.

  6. Beth Knittle Avatar

    I recently to had a workshop where 6 had signed up, but none showed. One person did let me know ahead of time that they had to change their plans. It was a first for me. I believe everyone had good intentions but it being December, mid-term reports due, and just the need for a vacation, I do think the forgetfulness was unintentional. Just wish I knew no one was coming ahead of time, because there is always so much to do and I felt like I was wasting time.