As our world rapidly changes, the tools and resources we have access to dramatically impacts our opportunities for learning. However, for educators to truly embrace the power of technology and create powerful learning experiences for their students, they have to experience this for themselves.
In an effort to support this in a recent class that I developed and taught for the University of San Diego’s online M.Ed program, the students (teachers) were expected to engage in a 25 hour learning challenge. The basic prompt was this (you can view the full project description here):
- Identify a skill, talent, or activity that you would like to learn. Your learning target does not need to be education-related. You could learn a new hobby (e.g. learn to bake a soufflé), adopt a new sport (e.g. wakeboarding anyone?), or cultivate new skills within an existing practice (e.g. expand your dancing repertoire to include the tango).
- Set a goal for your target learning. How will you know when you’ve achieved success (e.g. I can jump the wake on my wakeboard without falling)?
- Identify resources to support your learning process. Resources can be people, organizations, websites, books, etc.
- Begin learning your target activity/skill. As you learn, for the next 4 weeks, monitor your progress through (at minimum) weekly blog posts.
- Use social media such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to share your blog with friends and colleagues.
Learning through exploration of new tools and resources is an inherently different learning experience than writing a lesson plan or planning for how to integrate technology. I wanted to engage teachers in the process of learning something new to understand the obstacles and opportunities that learners face with access to content and diverse networks. Through experience and reflection, teachers gained key insights about how personal circumstances, resources, connections, and motivation impacted their learning.
One teacher’s reflection highlighted the impact of publishing her work and the power of an audience. “I was skeptical about this project and how it would impact my learning if all I was talking about was running. Then I posted my blog to Twitter and Facebook and I started to get a lot of feedback. I realized that publishing work brings a different level of accountability that I had never expected. You know you have a wider audience to critique but also support.”
Another teacher noted that throughout this process, she was most struck by the support network that helped her achieve her goal. “Whether they came up to me with advice, posted articles on my timeline, or commented on my blog, I had a support group that would not have existed without social media. I also felt motivated to succeed because I had so many people checking on my progress. If I can use these resources and have my students publish their work it will have a huge impact on their learning.”
Creating structured opportunities for teachers to be metacognitive about how and what they are learning can inspire them to create new learning experiences for students. Throughout the 25 Hour Learning Challenge teachers began to see the value of the vast resources online and the opportunities that exist to learn in a variety of ways. Beyond the resources, teachers also experienced the power of connecting across diverse networks and how they could bring those experiences to their own classrooms.
Traditional professional development is often structured and facilitated for people to attend, learn, and implement rather than driven by teacher goals, student needs, and personalized learning opportunities. When teachers have structured opportunities to learn and reflect openly about their process, they become more cognizant of how they are planning learning experiences for their students.