I’m a novitiate webinarian

Today I took part in my first ‘webinar’. (As an English teacher I love creativity with language, but that particular blend doesn’t do it for me. I referred to it as an edumeet in a tweet afterwards, but I don’t think that’s any better. Offers?)

I hadn’t planned to take part, as I didn’t know it existed, but a couple of tweets linking to the Classroom 2.0 live show got me curious and I went along, downloaded the Elluminate web conferencing plugin and signed myself in.

The founder of Classroom 2.0, Steve Hargadon writes:

We strive to make our shows very beginner-friendly, and if you’ve never participated in a live web meeting, don’t be afraid to come and take a peek at the show’s format. We would love for newbies to join us and ‘dip their toes’ in the conversations until you feel comfortable enough to ‘jump in the conversations with both feet’! We want to encourage “experienced Web 2.0 users” to join us and contribute and extend the conversation by providing real-life examples and tips/suggestions.

And that was exactly what we got. In total around 130 people were on board, mainly from the States, but as we were invited to place a virtual pin on a world-map I could see that there were three or four of us in the UK.  As it happens, this week’s topic was Twitter, so it was right where I’m at. As the hour unfolded there was a continuous stream of text chat, with people sharing questions, answers, observations and links, while the audio stream and shared desktop space were largely occupied by one of my early Twitter follows, Rodd Lucier (thecleversheep on Twitter) who offered an imaginative and informative introduction to Twitter, supported by a beautifully put together slide presentation shared direct from his desktop to the Elluminate whiteboard space.

With the meeting going ahead on my laptop I was able to look, listen and learn, and even make a tentative contribution or two in the chat room, while responding to a call from my wife to make coffee, and then waking my daughter from her afternoon nap. Maybe, on a Saturday, I should have devoted more of my attention to those activities, but I was so excited by the new experience and by what I was learning that I didn’t want to click the ‘close door’ button, that shows you’re away, even for five minutes. In future, maybe I’ll be less avid, secure in the knowledge that each week’s show is archived shortly afterwards at the Classroom 2.0 Live website.

So, I found this a great way of stepping up my own learning. What about the possibilities for using tools like this in my own practice as a teacher? One idea that immediately springs to mind is that many colleagues offer revision and support sessions after school. Although I’m resistant to the idea that this kind of extra (unpaid) help should be seen as a right by the students, or as an expectation on the part of teachers, there are occasions when I have done this in the past and would want to do so again, but with a young daughter to collect from nursery it’s not possible. I could certainly see this kind of online audio conferencing with the ability to pull up documents, presentations, websites and the like being a way of extending the learning as I see fit, in a way that suits the time I’ve got. I think it would be more efficient than the sometimes lengthy email exchanges I sometimes get into with students, when I get far too hung up on proof-reading and editing my writing before hitting the ‘send’ button so that an explanation that might take five minutes talking can use an hour of my time on the keyboard.

I also think that an awful lot of wasted time in scheduled school meetings could be replaced by targeted collaboration between relevant staff, meeting online at a time to suit them.  I’d be interested to hear from anyone who uses web conferencing tools in this way.  All I need to do now is overcome my ‘introverted’ personality trait, suggest it to some relevant people who might be sympathetic to the idea, and see if we can’t get this particular ball rolling.

(It’s time to try and make things happen rather than just grumbling that they don’t…

I had a tweam…

Despite my personality profile having labelled me a ‘dreamer’ I actually very rarely have dreams that I’m aware of. However, last night I dreamed that someone blogged that my first three posts were a perfect illustration of all 31 tenets of bad blogging in Drew Wheelbarrow’s definitive list on blogtazer.com.

Perhaps this was my subconscious warning me to temper the navel gazing a little. So instead I’m just going to share one of the, admittedly fairly commonplace, things I’ve been learning about lately.

Twitter looks pointless at first but is perhaps the most useful online tool I’ve encountered. I first opened an account months ago but fell into the common trap of thinking it was no good if you didn’t have already existing contacts to hook up with, and that even then it probably had little value unless you could tell eveyone that you were having a better time than them. However, after an initial flurry of activity using it to follow the Tour of California cycle race (#atoc) I’ve cottoned on to what it means to begin building a Personal Learning Network (PLN) using Twitter, thanks to the likes of twitter4teachers, @MrTweet and @Twitter_Tips.

There’s a bit of new language and etiquette to be learned, and I’m still a raw newbie, but as can be gleaned from the hashtags and @signs, I’m getting drawn in. Follow me @AntHeald.

(Or not, as you choose…

An embarrassment of riches

One of the problems I have with webby stuff is that there are just so many tools, and I’m an inveterate tinkerer.

Over the years I’ve had a go with my own websites using raw html, FrontPageExpress, FrontPage and a bit of Dreamweaver. I’ve used WordPress, Edublogs and Google Sites for school blogs and class sites, and recently had a play with Posterous. Now we’ve got Frog as our school VLE and feel I need to get to grips with that, but I find it a bit clunky and unreliable at the moment, so I’m wondering whether to persevere with it, or whether to go down the route of using my own fledgeling website as a kind of portal for my classes, linking to other services and to files on Frog as I see fit. And if I do that, what do I use to maintain the site? I’m having a look at Joomla, and wondering whether to get more familiar with Dreamweaver.

The problem is, of course, that the more I mess around, the less time I’m spending focussing on content and interaction which really should be all that matters.

(Thing is, I much prefer finding out how to do stuff than actually doing it…

You may say I’m a dreamer…

I was sitting in the staffroom at lunchtime last week, chewing the fat both literally and figuratively, when I got the “student at the door for you” call. Usually it’s someone handing in work, or offering excuses for not doing so, but this time it was a sixth-form student that I’d taught in Year 9, but not since.

Exactly what prompted his visit, I don’t know, but it seemed he just wanted a general ‘picking my brains’ kind of chat. He was asking me how I got such a wide vocabulary (I recall when he was in my class he would always ask me the meaning if I used a word he didn’t know); what kind of things did I read; he’d heard I wrote some poetry (something of an exaggeration) and could he see some; what made me want to be a teacher. Over the course of just fifteen minutes or so we touched on theology, the new physics, politics and economics.

It was a conversation that was both a little flattering, but also challenging and somewhat humbling. I think one of my colleagues had pointed him my way to avoid having such a conversation himself. The young man was very apologetic about taking all my time when the bell went for afternoon classes, and was surprised when I told him that such conversations are one of the things that makes doing my job seem worthwhile. He obviously looked up to me as some kind of paragon of knowledge, but as I was talking I was acutely aware of how little I really know of many the topics he wanted to know about.

Engagement of that type: the building of relationship through sharing exciting and challenging ideas, and being challenged to substantiate and develop your own position, is at the core of what I think education should be be. Yet, as on that lunchtime, it seems to me that most of the formal structures and processes of education marginalise such engagement to the periphery. I don’t have conversations like that as often as I’d like in timetabled lessons, that for sure.

Feeling, as I often do, frustrated by my inability either to make myself work as effectively as possible within the system, or to bend it in the direction I believe it should go, has me thinking a lot about how others think and work (hence my voracious trawling around the edublogosphere of late) and about what I could do to make my strengths work for me and the people I live and work with, rather than continuing to feel and think like a parenthetical clause that remains open-ended, stacking further sub-clause within embedded clause, drifting further from the main text from which the bracket was opened.

Serendipitously I was thinking about the degree to which our personality type is fixed or malleable, and whether I’m just doomed to be the sort of person who reads and thinks a lot without doing much when one of the most inspirational edubloggers I’ve come across – Doug Belshaw – posted about the Myers-Briggs personality type profiles. I’ve done similar tests before and always come out as INFP – the ‘idealist’ or ‘dreamer’. I wonder, though, to what extent such tests are something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: whether I avoid the challenge of changing myself by answering the questions in such a way that my sense of self is simply reinforced.  When I fail yet again to do the simple practical stuff that most people seem to find easy, I can just say – “Ah well; can’t be helped: I’m a dreamer, an idealist, a visionary.”

There does seem to be something in the personality type profiles, though. Unlike star-sign profiles, for example, I can’t read any of the other type profiles and uniformly go ‘yes – that’s me’ in the way that I do with descriptions of IFNP traits. The passage that most struck a chord with me from one of the type descriptions I read was:

The INFP needs to work on balancing their high ideals with the requirements of every day living. Without resolving this conflict, they will never be happy with themselves, and they may become confused and paralyzed about what to do with their lives.

I guess this blog is yet another attempt at finding a way of working through that sense of confusion and paralysis.

(An attempt at closing the parentheses…