Reflections on ALA and NECC and the upcoming November Learning

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I am weary from the craziness of three conferences packed together and the notion of having to slightly reframe my thinking to prepare for the third.

NECC was different this year. This first time not presenting allowed me to embrace the buzz around me and reflect. Without the pressure of a regular newspaper column, I was not forced to search for a year’s worth of stories about new products and did not have to attend vendor sessions. (The couple I did wanted me to believe that storage solutions and assessment software would transform learning. I am not so sure.)

I feel so quilty about my biggest regret. Instead of attending the Thursday night bloggers’ event, I had a truly beautiful dinner with good friends who could not (and should not have to) reschedule their dinner for my new passion. It was the best dinner I have had in a very long time. But I so wish I could have met those folks whose ideas I read so regularly.

I returned from NECC with mixed feelings. I know everything is changing. I truly believe we are at a turning point. I know kids are learning differently. I know–both first and secondhand–the power of social networking and Web 2.0 communication tools.

I also believe that students need to be both paper and Web trained. They need to play. They need to invent with all the tools available to them. They need to learn to critically read and write in a hypertext, networked environment and to pull together a thoughtful, edited argument. They need to tell compelling multimedia, digital stories and they need to submit far less flashy pdf white papers.

Hearing both Alan November and Ian Jukes on the same day made a little of this tension more clear to me. We (I!) get so excited about the new tools, that I often feel guilty about the skills I know I need to teach to ensure that my own learners use those tools ethically and powerfully!

Though I use the tools of the 21st century, many of the lessons I teach around them incorporate my immigrant accent. How do we find and create quality? How we get our voices heard in a world of noise? How do we move learners from being mere consumers of information to effective creators of information? When is it important to find the best information? How do I synthesize from multiple sources a communication product that presents my voice saying something new and powerful? How do I present my own work with integrity in a cut and paste world? Regarding evaluation, I loved Alan’s line: “You’re not literate if you can’t figure out who wrote the site.”

Will Richardson’s sessions pointed to strategies for both worlds–how to use blogs for thoughtful discussions of literature, the importance of audience to student writers, how to use wikis to aggregate class knowledge and to create collaboratively, how learning is changing from just-in-case, to just-in-time. As Will tells us, “It’s not about the technology, it’s about imagination.”

Kathy Schrock shared a wealth of information about finding and using primary sources. Peter Milbury hosted a Birds of a Feather session for LM_NET and allowed many of us to remember how the list enriched–sometimes saved–our professional lives.

My favorite session was Dan McDowell’s (http://ahistoryteacher.com/necc2006). Dan is a history teacher who uses wikis regularly with his classes. He described Bernie Dodge’s Design Patterns for EduWikis, which offers ideas for classroom wiki use–what type of wiki to choose for particular learning goals. Don’t miss Dan’s careful planning and explicit instructions in his  World War I Battles and Holocaust Wikis. I particularly like the student decision-making elements in these activities.

I am flooded with ideas for next school year. Apps are increasingly Web-based! Open source rocks! (Check out Gliffy for concept mapping, Simile for timelining, Writely, a word processor, and Jump Cut for video editing!)

Teachers in 2006 have all the tools they need to create amazing learning experiences. We can connect learners across geography and time. We can teach critical thinking and effective information seeking and communication skills in new landscapes, with newly empowered learners working collaboratively to create and share knowledge. We have new power to engage students in transformative learning experiences, experiences that remember what we already know about the power of inquiry and graceful thinking.

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