Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Your “Normal” is Not Mine

This past summer, my wife had the opportunity to attend the “Project Zero Conference” at Harvard with nine other teachers from our school. One of the biggest pedagogical themes of the conference was “visible thinking.” This involves thinking strategies that enable teachers as well as students to make their thinking literally visible in the classroom and to each other. After numerous conversations about the conference and the instructional strategies she is using this year as a result, I’ve been thinking a lot more about things that are INVISIBLE in our minds.

Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies continue to develop rapidly, but we are probably a long way from being able to readily see the perceptions of others in a tangible way. As I continue to interact with others not only at school, but also at church, and elsewhere in our community, I am struck by how we all define “normal” in different ways and may often not realize just how different someone else’s “perceptual normal” might be. I’ll try to explain what I am talking about by sharing an example.

I’m enjoying the opportunity to again teach an adult Sunday school class at our church this year, but for the first time I have introduced and I’m using a learning management system to share slides, videos, links and optional assignments for our class members. I am using Google Classroom, since it’s free, incredibly powerful, and works really well on both iPhone and Android smartphones. People do need to have or create a Google account to login, but it is no longer tied to only GSuite Education domains. From my standpoint as a teacher, it’s working really well. We only have a handful of participants who have gotten logged into the site so far, but I have received some enthusiastic feedback up to this point.

For many people in our Sunday school class, a learning management system like Google Classroom is a welcome novelty. For me, however, it is really “old hat.” When I started working as the Director of Distance Learning at the College of Education at Texas Tech University in 2001, one of my primary roles with faculty was helping them share course materials into our learning management system of the day, WebCT. The university was just transitioning to systems which would eventually automate the creation of online spaces for each course section offered, and now this is completely the norm in higher education. That was 18 years ago! My “normal” of blending learning with online spaces and a physical classroom space is almost 2 decades old, yet this is NOT normal for many older adults in our class.

The diffusion of innovation curve by Everett Rogers, pictured below, is one of the most important frameworks to keep in mind as we work with not only other educators in our schools but also just about anybody in our spheres of work and influence.

Diffusion of Innovations by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr
Diffusion of Innovations” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

We need to remember that many people have a very different “normal” than we do when it comes to technology and information sharing. We need to have empathy and understanding for others who are likely overwhelmed with email and information, and may feel ill-equipped to deal with not only technology but also the regular assault of data that we each seem to face at work and even at home each day. Who is not overwhelmed with email today? I’m doing better now that I have pivoted to academic technology at our school, but information overload seems to be a constant condition rather than something temporary and passing now.

My “normal” is very likely different from many of the people with whom I work and interact on a daily basis. This is likely true for you too. Just as we would be sensitive to the importance of not making assumptions and clearly communicating if we were living and working in a foreign culture, having to speak another language and learn different customs, we need to adopt a similar mindset today living as we do in an age of incredible, exponential change.

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