Become a brave beginner

Professional development involves many kinds of learning: short workshops, seminars, online microcourses or webinars, conferences and symposiums. You may read professional journals, listen to academic podcasts, participate in a community of practice for your subject area or job, and monitor / participate various social media channels. But what kind of development learning do you participate in most often?

In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, you need continuous professional development. No matter what your area of expertise or profession, you need to keep pace with the important changes that affect your daily practices. Finding time to focus on, absorb and apply new learning is challenging but I wonder – how often do you dive into learning that makes you uncomfortable, where you might fumble and even fail initially?

Research has shown that uncertainty and discomfort can trigger better learning. Emotions are a big part of learning – they don’t always have to be positive. But how often do we seek out learning that makes us uncomfortable? For many of us, reading professional journals, watching/listening to podcasts or webinars and attending annual conferences or workplace seminars or “lunch and learns” are the main avenues to learning about new developments or skills we should have. We are busy with the demands of our professions – it’s not surprising that we stay within our comfort zones when it comes to ongoing professional development.

And yet, to learn things that are new, not just that reinforce what we already know, is essential to moving forward in life. We need to take risks to expand our knowledge, make new connections and stay at the leading edge of our fields. That doesn’t mean we need to do this all the time. Yale professor, Daeyeol Lee explains that we need to take breaks from learning to balance the uncertainty we face in new situations.

I read an interesting article in HBR magazine the other day: Learning is Supposed to Feel Uncomfortable by Peter Bregman. He shared his experiences as as an expert in his field participating in a professional development workshop in which he had to learn from the beginning – and the discomfort and even embarassment he felt. Yet he deliberately seeks challenging opportunities for learning every year. He contrasts his perspective with a colleague who doesn’t dare to risk exposing their ignorance as it might undermine the respect and trust that students look for from a leader in their field.

His perspective resonates with my own personal professional experiences. I’ve taught and designed learning related to online and technology-enhanced learning environments for many years. The field changes constantly and no one is really an “expert” in the old sense of the word. So, my approach to learning tends to reflect Bregman’s in that I tend to seek out learning that makes me uncomfortable or in which I don’t know much yet. The acknowledgement of the possibility of learning new things also infiltrates my teaching and design. And yet, I have had learners (who were teachers) who told me they felt very uncomfortable when I openly stated that I too was learning while I was sharing what I knew. They wanted me to be “the expert” and felt a loss of confidence when I wouldn’t accept that role.

I think that the level of discomfort that you can handle, and the impact of public learning that might concern you has a lot to do with your area of knowledge and type of work. You may be avoiding exposing your ignorance in certain kinds of learning (as Bregman’s colleague was) and you may be correct in assuming that you will lose clients or the confidence of students (or your employer). But don’t avoid risk and discomfort in all forms of professional learning. Make sure you take on the role of the “brave beginner” in some forms of learning so that you explore new ideas, knowledge and skills and stay interested in your work and provide value to your learners.

Additional references and resources

Boaler, Jo. (Oct. 28, 2019). Why Struggle is Essential for the Brain – and Our Lives, Edsurge: Voices: Learning Research. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-10-28-why-struggle-is-essential-for-the-brain-and-our-lives.

Bregman, Peter. (Aug 21, 2019). Learning is Supposed to Feel Uncomfortable, Harvard Business Review Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/08/learning-is-supposed-to-feel-uncomfortable

Patel, Sujan (Mar 9, 2016). Why Feeling Uncomfortable Is The Key To Success, Forbes, retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/sujanpatel/2016/03/09/why-feeling-uncomfortable-is-the-key-to-success/#41a64fe31913

Stillman, Jessica. (Aug 14, 2018). Science Has Just Confirmed That If You’re Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You’re Not Learning, retrieved from https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/want-to-learn-faster-make-your-life-more-unpredictable.html

TED Talks playlist – How to learn from mistakes Missteps, mess-ups and misunderstandings hurt. And yet, they offer an opportunity to learn and grow. Talks on how … 7 videos.

YaleNews (July 19, 2018) Aren’t sure? Brain is primed for learning, Retrieved from https://news.yale.edu/2018/07/19/arent-sure-brain-primed-learning

Several of these articles cite research published in Neuron journal:

A KonMari approach to digital downsizing?

I’m a self-confessed (or is that self-professed?) digital hoarder. I have six printed pages (in 10pt Arial Narrow) of Web2.0 and mobile app accounts location and login information! I had two extensive del.icio.us and Furl bookmarking accounts and still have two Diigo accounts, a Netvibes account with 25 pages of topic-organized bookmarks, and Evernote on all my devices! I have tab saving/syncing setup on my Firefox and my two favourite mobile apps are Pocket and Feedly. I maintain five separate cloud storage accounts that give me a total of 20 Mb of free storage and tuck away documents and files and images in sporadic flurries. Does that sound familiar?

Along with so many of us, I have come to a point in my life where I’m stepping back and reflecting on whether I’m still going in directions that are important to me. I know that I no longer need the plethora of digital files, multimedia, social media and other digital stuff that I’ve collected over 20 years of teaching, coaching and developing courses and workshops. I’ve gifted myself with a professional refocusing time that involves exploring new options but also requires that I declutter my digital life and becoming more disciplined about how and when I dive into the fascinating, time-sucking social media streams.

I tried various approaches but after two months realized that I’d simply deleted some stuff but added a whole lot of new, interesting digital bits. Obviously I needed a better approach. I asked around and my sister suggested the magic of the KonMari method. Apparently I was one of the few who had never heard of this popular author and Youtube video maker, Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizational consultant who advises only keeping what gives you joy or at least pleasure when you see or handle it.

I was intrigued at the enthusiasm that people expressed about her methods. I watched a few videos and read a few articles. I wondered how learning how to fold a t-shirt with love and to ensure that it could stand on its own (??) could be applied to my digital downsizing quest.

Where to begin? Well, at the beginning. In a starter video, Tidy Up Your Home, Marie Kondo says to start by gathering all your clothes into a pile. She suggests that you not put anything away until you have review each item. By review she means handling each piece and reflecting on your physical/emotional response to it. If it is positive, “joy” is her term, keep it. If it isn’t, thank it and get rid of it (feeling appreciation for each object seems a bit weird but I like the concept).

In another video, How to Tidy Your Office Desk, she asks that you “..think about your ideal lifestyle…” or goal. That’s where I hit my first block – I’m not sure yet what my lifestyle goals are/will be. If I interpret her advice figuratively, and modify it for my particular digital downsizing goal, I will develop some broad categories of digital resources and begin collecting them together. Hopefully reflecting on each item will help clarify my goals? Stay tuned for digital dogpiles ahead.

Other reading:

Mapping connections 4 learning

Mind maps (the term is attributed to Tony Buzan although the idea is much older) are a useful tool to organize knowledge visually and deepen understanding. When drawn on a piece of paper or whiteboard, the maps are easy to create and change, yet provide a clear and shareable record of thinking about a subject.

12Apps of Christmas graphicWhen the maps are developed using an app or web-based service, mind mapping becomes even more powerful and portable. I’ve used various apps over the last few years and thought they might be an interesting addition to the annual BCcampus 12apps for Christmas event. But how to choose an app?

The 12apps event has a simple set of attributes:

  • free (or at least an option to try for free so everyone could try it easily)
  • cross platform (iOs or Android – bonus if it works in a web browser too!)
  • has potential to support teaching and/or learning.

I added a few additional characteristics to help me choose:

  • visually attractive (without a lot of fussing)
  • easy to save or share (even if the saved version couldn’t be edited in other apps)
  • clear terms of use and help to get started
  • collaborative (a big bonus and only available with some)

I chose SimpleMind first as I thought it scored reasonably well and I had used it in the past as an iPad app and liked it. But after initial testing and review of features, I found they had restricted what I felt was an essential attribute of free use – you could no longer save your mind maps in any way – not even with a screen capture!

So I went back to check out Bubbl.us, Freemind, Mindomo, Mindmup, Mindmeister, Popplet, Lucidchart (not technically a mind mapping app). Some were open source and required installation on a server (or didn’t have an app option for mobile devices; other apps had a free or trial version but were expensive (comparatively) if you wanted to continue and expand your use.

I finally settled on Coggle – it was cross-platform, easy to use, produced visually appealing maps without a lot of fuss, and could be used collaboratively. Although the free version had limitations, the price for a basic subscription was in line with other apps.

example mind map - lasers

Coggle Gallery: Lasers

Mind maps are useful for various knowledge building activities and Coggle makes it easy to use to engage learners in online classes:

  • creating a visual map of course themes, topics and learning objectives to help students manage their learning or to help an instructor develop or refine a course;
  • creating collaborative maps to summarize highlights of a week’s forum postings or to share final reflections on learning as a course draws to a close;
  • for individual learning as a way to take meaningful notes during presentations or while reviewing research reports;
  • to support collaborative knowledge building activities by having small groups create and share mind maps of their research and analysis of a relevant topic; and,
  • to support a blended learning activity beginning from individual to small group discussion using a paper-based graphic organizer to capture and refine brainstorming (face-to-face) and then moving tChristmas mind map with Cogglehe discussion into an online session where small groups shared digital mind maps of their analysis to contribute to a final summary of critical perspectives on an important theme or issue.
  • And I had some fun by completing my own “What about Christmas?” mind map!

There’s not been too much participation (at least visibly) in this year’s 12apps event but the daily app blog posts will stay visible throughout the year so you can easily refer back to find a new app to try.

If you’re curious to learn more about the potential of mind maps and other visual organizers and analytical approaches, check out some of these articles:

 

Inspired by FLO micro-course!

FLO MicroCourse iconI’m currently on a professional learning journey – exploring longer, ongoing learning (through BCCampus Online Book Club) and distinctly separate (but linked) digestible chunks of learning offered by Sylvia Currie and her FLO’rs (through FLO – MicroCourses)*

I’ve taken one micro-course (Creating and using rubrics) on and I’m immersed in the 2nd: Experience and design a community building activity, facilitated by three creative and experienced facilitators:  Colleen Grandy, Gina Bennett, Sylvia Currie.

So, Ilooking through scope‘ll take the micro-scopic view this week as I’m currently challenged to pick, describe and share my idea(s) for an engaging online community building activity!. I’ve got some drafts on the go – will share them below here after I share them with my colleagues!

a random photo story opportunity

5 Card Flickr

I started by waffling between using one of two amazing free online tools:  Five Card Flickr by Cogdog (aka Alan Levine) or the TinEye Lab (Multicolr: Search by color). Both do random searches by keyword and/or colour for Creative Commons-licenced images. How great is that eh? I mentioned that I’d been waiting for an opportunity to use Cogdog’s app for a long time (Sylvia Currie pointed out tha

a random search by color or keyword

Tineye Multicolr

t he’d launched it in a 2011 event at UBC!!!)

And I think I probably found the search by colour site by Tineye sometime around 2012?  I can’t remember exactly and it may have come from Stephen Downes or, more likely, by amazing edtech boss Grant Dunham! He was always combing the Internet for new ideas to make online learning and distributed learning more interesting, engaging and to help people learn!

And here’s the great thing about taking the plunge into self-direct professional learning – the feedback I received from the three micro-course facilitators and participants really expanded my perception of how I could offer this as a community building activity and made me take a closer look at whether it was edtech fascination or a focused intention to support better learning (yikes – guilty of letting my digital magpie take over to some extent!)

Check out the value-added feedback from the micro-course – and you’ll see why I am a fan and encourage you to sign up for the next FLO micro-course!

Constructive commentary from my colleagues:

Gina:  try one image and then space out the contributions of other learners – to build a story together from the images from random searches (maybe contribute one every other day?) My note:  Which tool would be best to support the shared presentation of image and story? We are working in Moodle primarily – Lightbox might work? Or is Google more flexible? and accessible? or move away from the Web2/3.0 tools entirely and just provide a selection of random images and they can pick?

The point is to build connection and community among disparate learners. Maybe best to do a themed search, collect the random images and post them in the learning space? Allow learners to select one image and add to the story line? Could be done with Glossary tool?

SylviaC:  try the same set of random sorted images and ask everyone to build a story and then comment/think about others?

Beth Cougler Blom:  she encountered some challenges with saving images from a random search on the 5 Card Flickr site so she went to a random search on Adobe Spark and created a quick story – and shared the steps she took and what she thought about what she was doing – invaluable feedback!

And she made me reflect on my underlying motivation by asking: “I feel this story doesn’t have anything to do with me…was it supposed to? Or was it supposed to just be a cool, creative process/story to engage with?”  Yup, I have to admit, part of this was driven by the ‘cool’ factor rather than the community building factor. Yikes, you’d think I’d be over that. But that’s the value of these micro-courses – where else would I get such honest, thought-provoking feedback. I’m so appreciative!

UK random image generatorGina – again:  She stayed on track and watched Beth’s Spark video and contributed another awesome resource – Random Image Prompts. I have never encountered that one but it’s now tucked away in my Ideas file and I’m sharing it out to you in case you want to try some variation of this approach to building community!

So thanks to everyone who contributed ideas and took the time to test my idea – I have even more ideas now! Try it yourself – and let me know how it went?

Sylvia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


* Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) MicroCourses are short, single-topic, hands-on and free. In one week, you will dip into the FLO experience, and leave with something practical and useful for your own teaching practice.

Making marks and dancing feelings at SKiP2018

Sketching in Practice logoOne of the things I love about living ‘down south’, is the opportunity to follow a whim or curiosity in terms of professional development. When I saw some tweets fly by about a Sketching in Practice symposium sponsored by SFU, my interest was piqued. When I poked around a bit I found the pages and pictures from the 2016 and 2017 events and then followed the blog until the presenters for this year’s event were posted. I checked my calendar, figured out travel details and registered.

I’ve explored graphic facilitation and sketchnoting in the past but I appreciated the wider scope of SKiP2018. From a young art teacher, Meghan Parker, who had just completed the first “..thesis of an autobiographical nature in comic book form” to two academics, Dr. Kathryn Ricketts and Dr. Andrea Kantrowitz, who proposed to explore intersections between movement, gesture, and meaning, the day looked pretty full of thought-provoking experiences!

A last minute surprise was my winning a draw for a pre-event workshop with Carnegie Mellon’s Doug Cooper called “Drawing by Touch.” Thanks SKiP!

So…what?

So, what did I learn? what did it change about my ongoing professional development ideas and interests?

Comics in education

I am still ambivalent about the role of comics (as most comics are drawn) in education. After listening to Meghan Parker speak her comic thesis, I realized that part of my resistance to comic strips may have been the structure (connected boxes) and the visual busy-ness I perceive when I try to read them. I was surprised at how much I learned from Meghan’s comics and how some of her simple images and complex messages stayed with me afterwaMeghan Parker's thesis comicrds. I realized I appreciated the variation in presentation of her visual elements – sometimes she drew around boxes while at other times she had a pageful of boxes. I’ll revisit some comic strips and try reading them out loud too – might help me to understand the attraction 😉

 

Hand drawing on paper

I have always found that writing can help me work out ideas but I often struggle with using drawing the same way. I’ve found that the challenge of imagining an image to represent a complex idea takes a fair bit of thinking at times and my lack of any drawing automaticity means that I’m also struggling to think of how to draw the image I can picture. Sometimes that means drawing is a block to understanding rather than an aid. So, the natural drawing exercises (from author/teacher Kimon Nicolaides: The Natural Way to Draw (1941)) that Doug talked/walked/drew us through on Thursday afternoon were really helpful as he introduced me to some new ways of relaxing about drawing and finding ways to feel the shapes of what I see and to let my hand and arm relax and stay connected with the paper. Now, to make drawing a more natural part of my day so that I can use it more effectively in my practice.

drawing scienceDrawing Science

I thoroughly enjoyed Armin Mortazavi’ Lightning Talk. His understated delivery and self-deprecating humour make it easy to miss the impressive abilities of this young science cartoonist. His story about juggling personal crises while holding various government entities at bay while he created a meaningful story to communicate complex health and nutrition information through his comics was hilarious but enlightening. I’m only sorry I couldn’t be part of his session – I heard it was great.

Maps for inspiration; maps for understanding

Two related afternoon sessions: Professor Chris Lanier shared some interesting examples of some of his favourite graphic novels and then pulled us into an exploration of how drawn images can inspire story narratives. An interesting use of this narrative mapping technique that certainly drew some interesting stories from the audience. Chris is currently working on a novel about the Department of Justice’s Ferguson Police Department Report (An Anatomy of Institutional Racism), using comics and infographics.

Erin Fields hosted an interesting session exploring the Information World Mapping (IWM), developed by Dr. Devon Greyson. She involved us in a brief application of the technique, having us draw our information world – mapping the process and connections we think of when we try to resolve a problem. This enriched our understanding of her story about applying this method at UBC when she participated in an application of IWM to try to understand the information-related needs and preferences of student refugees during resettlement. Erin is Liaison Librarian in the humanities and social sciences and the Flexible Learning Coordinator at the University of British Columbia.

Drawing as a form of thinking

I had read about Sandra’s use of drawing journals in a recent article from Capilano University’s Bettina Boyle so I was curious to hear her story and learn more about how she integrated drawing in her teaching. She shared her journey and her efforts to understand the evidence underlying her beliefs and practices in the classroom. Some of her examples were very compelling and a good “push” to start incorporating more drawing and journaling to support my own personal reflective practices!

Marks, movements and meanings

I think there is much more to the ideas Dr. Ricketts and Andrea Kantrowitz wanted to share with us than I was able to absorb from their Lightning Talk and interactive three-part session. Although the fluidity of movement, the variation in emotional expression and story conveyed by Kathryn’s movements was interesting, and the use of the projected overlays of line, colour and form that Andrea drew as she was inspired and interacting with Kathryn’s story were eye-catching, I never really felt the two blended or augmented my understanding, although the group I was part of during the “audience participation” piece had a lot of fun trying to use movement to express emotions depicted by tiny drawings on scraps of paper. I was grateful for the small printed booklets Andrea shared afterwards and I’ll be “unpacking” the ideas as I have time.

Whew! It was a full day and a half – had to leave early to catch a ferry home. Too bad I missed the summation and the opportunity to get together with people afterwards. But my hat is off to the hardworking, enthusiastic SFU staff that helped us all learn together – and kept it fun!

Cheers to Jason Toal’s team of sketching enthusiasts – from Simon Fraser University’s, Faculty of Communications Art and Technology; School of Interactive Art and Technology; and the Teaching and Learning Center