Reflections on Starting a Revolution

Okay, maybe the title is a bit over-dramatic.  I just couldn’t come up with anything else snappier. Harriet and I have been presenting our Social Learning Environment Manifesto at a few conferences lately… and in many ways it does feel like we are trying to start a revolution.  The reality is that we are just starting a few new skirmishes in the over all movement to change education, but sometimes we feel a bit alone since there is not really a network or gathering that we can go to and just feel at home. You know, a conference or gathering of like minds, of people that get this stuff totally.  There are places like TxDLA where we can find many comrades-in-arms among everyone else, but then there are places like EduCause where we felt waaaaaay out-numbered by the muggles.

(side-note: I am always thankful and surprised to find some readers of this blog out there. Any time you ever see me out there at a conference, feel free to grab a chair at the table I am eating at and let’s swap ideas.)

I guess we just have to be ready for hecklers and critics everywhere we go. In many ways, I like to embrace the comments of those that get visibly upset and red-faced when we question their sacred cows. Their questions and concerns help us to sharpen our argument significantly.  So this blog post is really a tribute to those critics and hecklers.

But first, a quick look at a good piece of constructive criticism:

For an improvement, I would have liked to see more examples of what people are doing. I like concrete items, I know the topic was theoretical which limited what could be presented; however I think I would have liked to see the presenters present more examples or talk rather than fielding as many questions as they did.

This comment actually came from someone that really liked the session, but left this as a suggestion for improvement.  We intentionally made our presentation more discussion oriented… more open-ended. We think that people actually need to start demanding that conference presenters stop giving so many concrete ideas and examples. They need to stop thinking for us. They need to give us the concepts and let us come up with the concrete ideas.

An interesting question arose from the discussion that I think applies here.  The question was basically that students don’t usually like to think for themselves – they want to be spoon fed – so if we go open and active with learning, won’t they just complain? The answer to that is a bit complex, but the short answer is yes, they will complain that content is not being spoon fed to them in a passive format.  Then the attendees started laughing about how that is also how we want stuff as educators – we go to conferences to be spoon-fed and not think ourselves.  The comment above is an example of that – we left it open ended and let people interact more, and even among the people that loved what we said their were still people that still wanted us to be more passive. I still want at times myself, so I am not criticizing this person’s comments as much as pointing out how much we need to change as educators.  Bur from here on out, the comments I want to feature get pretty bad :)

They were just presenting a conceptual piece, seemingly hoping for someone to fund them. It seems as though they assume ALL students have youtube, blogs, twitter, etc accounts.

Fund us? Do they know anything about these conferences? Going to TxDLA or Educause hoping to get funding is like Barry Manilow going to Metallica hoping they will buy some songs for their next album.  That is just crazy talk.  The second sentence shows how little people pay attention when they have written you off.  Our point was that students can used whatever tools they already are using online, no matter what it is, in their learning – rather than learn new tools just to do “assignments”.

Be prepared to provide strong evidence you are correct. If you can’t do that, you should keep your opinions to yourself.

Really? This last one is just sad, because it really defeats the whole purpose of education.  We can’t share new ideas? We can’t dream and think outside of the box and get other people to dream along with us?  You know, someone has to actually try this stuff before there is any evidence. That is kind of how you get evidence. Ideas only get better once you share them and collaborate around them.  But, once again, we want to be spoon fed.  Don’t give me concepts – give me ideas for me to mindlessly clone!

Despite the last two sad comments, the majority were good constructive ideas like the first one I quoted above or just down right awesome encouragement.  I will conclude with one of the better ones that was left for us:

What Matt and Harriet are proposing is exciting, innovative, and Bb, D2L, Google, Microsoft should all stop and listen.

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