A roller-coaster ride

Two weeks ago I felt quite down and demotivated, overwhelmed by the technological mountain before me, what with blogs, wikis, del.icio.us, rss, tags, flickr, slideshare, twitter and a whole heap of other mysterious words. I felt quite inadequate; I simply wouldn’t be able get up to speed with all these web-based technologies. Not only was I struggling as an online learner (having difficulties managing my time, focusing on a particular task without zipping off here and there following pathways of interesting links, or even making some contribution to others in the group … needless-to-say I’m still struggling with all of these but working on it), but even worse, would I ever be able to make it as a good online teacher. Fairly depressing stuff!

But then I tuned into Nancy White’s talk about how much we learn by looking over someone else’s shoulders (here’s her website). I recognized immediately that this is how I have learned most of my (somewhat limited) computer skills, watching someone else, it’s like they turn the key and open the door a little for you to then venture inside yourself and try it out. In this course I’ve been looking over people’s shoulders to see how they set up and use their blogs, and how Elluminate and some of these other tools can be used (I like Elluminate, it’s immediately applicable to my teaching area (bioscience), although I’ve found I can listen and watch the slide screen but not follow the text at the same time!). And it’s been really useful, I’ve picked up a lot but to be honest, it’s a slow and difficult process when you are not an overly confident computer/web-user and doing it all online rather than having that person sitting next to you. But this will be the challenging reality for many online learners that don’t have any f2f, so it’s good to be aware of it and to consider how I can help students to feel comfortable and able to move beyond the technology.

There were several things that really struck me from Nancy’s talk:

Her chatty style mixing information and personal stories, her sense of humor, and ease of responding to the written text and questions; I felt like we were in the same room, I could almost see her waving her hands about as she excitedly spoke.

Much to my relief she told us that online facilitators don’t need to know all the techno stuff but it’s helpful to have a geeky friend who does (that’s Leigh, Bron and Terry I think). She said a wonderful line “it’s OK to be unknowing and comfortable in your unknowingness”. It was great to hear that, I don’t need to know everything about all the techno tools and words that keep popping up, just enough to see whether a particular tool will be useful in my teaching context and then using it well. So I’ll just focus on a few things (and keep a list of others to catch up with later on).

And it was even better when Nancy referred to the power of the newbie or new ”bee” buzzing around carrying new ideas to other people. What a confidence booster! Later that week I excitedly showed my husband some of the communication tools I am becoming familiar with (google groups, blogs, wikis) and he began wondering how he might be able to use this in environmental management at a national level. I really was buzzing!

And lastly from Nancy some tips on what makes a good facilitator: they are self aware, they practice and get feedback so they can identify their strengths and weaknesses, and they know how to ask good questions. This was great stuff.

So where am I now? I forged ahead and changed my web browser to Leigh’s suggestion which seemed to upset some of my other applications, although I hope that’s all sorted now. And I set-up my RSS feeder (I really liked the YouTube video (RSS in plain English by Leelefever) that described what it was, this video was really simple and effective). Then back down to reality with the number of posts appearing on the reader after a number of days away distracted by work and family commitments, and finding myself unsure what to do with my Gary Larson cartoon for our Bb exercise when I discovered it and the link to it breached copyright (which is why it hasn’t appeared anywhere), and then missing the talk last week because I thought it was on a different day (thank goodness they are recorded). I know I still have a long way to go but what a ride so far!

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