21 Apr Distracting Ourselves from Learning
I really try not to rant in blog posts. (I do most of my ranting around the house where my dog greets it with a yawn before burying his head under a blanket.) But I’m growing weary of something that I’m seeing more and more.
One of the reasons I like and participate in social media is the exposure it gives me to fellow educators who may have perspectives that differ from my own. I’m often challenged to consider different backgrounds, alternate perspectives, and even conflicting opinions. I’m not always swayed by what I encounter, but I am frequently challenged.
However, I’m only challenged when I take the time to listen respectfully (or read carefully, or view attentively, or…) and make an honest attempt to construct an understanding of what someone else is communicating. That means I need to shut-up, both my head and my mouth, until I can articulate the fullest possible understanding of another’s thoughts. When I talk back before understanding what’s being said, I disrespectfully shut the virtual door in my colleague’s face. Worse, when I converse with others while a colleague is making a point, I communicate my own arrogance by conveying, through my actions, that what I have to say to someone else is more important than hearing my colleague’s ideas. How can we learn from someone else when we’re absorbed in conversations that only confirm our already-held biases?
I reached my boiling point with this during a recent Web-based event. The moderator of the event had convinced the author of an excellent book to give a group of educators an hour of time online. As the interview proceeded, I watched the “back channel” chat taking place. Almost immediately, the topics of conversation went far from the ideas being discussed. People, I’m assuming other educators because it was an educator’s forum, immediately began sharing their own, often uninformed, opinions and conversing as if they were the only ones in the “room.” In so doing, they frequently missed the points made by the moderator or guest. They were not engaged in learning from the experience; they were engaged in self-confirming feel-good ego stroking.
Yes, I know. These teachers were free to do what they wanted in the forum during the event. But, and I think this matters, at what point does this freedom begin to impair the learning of others? Yes, I could have ignored the chat room posts, but if that’s the choice, why bother with the tool? It only adds to my brain’s workload of disregarding the irrelevant and attending to the important.
Here’s why I see this as a problem. Many of these teachers are strong advocates for the use of technology in education, as I am provided it supports good pedagogy or fosters authentic learning. However, their own use of it reveals its potential drawbacks. How can we model effective technology use for students if we use it to distract ourselves from potential learning?
Yes, yes, I know. Not everyone was/is guilty of this. But, at least as “back channels” go, it doesn’t take very many before the tool becomes a distraction rather than a benefit. Engagement for learning means engaging with the new ideas and directing interaction toward such thinking. Engagement focused elsewhere is not learning; it’s a cocktail party.
Okay, the rant is over. You can come out from under that blanket now.
Images: Wallpaper4me & KD Washburn