Reflections on #LearnPod13

So, #LearnPod13 is finally done and dusted for yet another year, and now I’ve slept on it and my brain has finally started to stop buzzing with all the myriad ideas and thoughts that the event provoked, I ask myself ‘what did people get out of it?’ – other than the cake!

cake coma

(“Cake coma” by Zoomar, available on Flickr under the Creative Commons licence [accessed 18th July 2013]).

My initial response is a heck of a lot, as evidenced by all the excitement and enthusiasm, not only from the keen LearnPodders my colleagues and I chatted with on the day, but also by the online participation on the hashtag #LearnPod13, in the LearnPod Facebook group and on the flurry of blog posts that followed (more links to these later).  My sincere thanks to each and every one of you, because at the end of the day it’s down to your infectious levels of enthusiasm that in my opinion made the day, and you certainly all had this in spades!

One of the pervasive discussions for me throughout the day was how to engage people (both learners and academic staff) with technology.  The seed to this discussion was initially sown in the Facebook group by Rachel Hartshorne and the debate continued throughout the day in various guises (have a look at Rachel’s blog for a useful summary). The reasons why people don’t engage are complex and sometimes I feel that we are too dismissive about why people don’t engage and don’t in fact question our own methods enough for communicating the reasons for engaging.  One common failing that I’ve certainly been guilty of in the past, is to focus too much on the tool and not enough on how that tool can help the individual to do the things they want to do.

Fear of failure or embarrassment when using technology (especially in front of learners) also cropped up a lot and Lillian Soon amongst others mentioned some great strategies for empowering staff by supporting them in the classroom, not only to give them a safety net for when the technology fails, but also to allow them to experience first hand the benefits that technology can have on the learners in practice.

Another great example (and my apologies to the person who raised this as I didn’t catch your name) was the need to personalise technology wherever possible to the interests of the individual.  The example given was to engage people that are 50+ with Google Street View by getting the learners to look up where they used to live and to tap into their memories – I loved this idea.  I think it stresses the importance of having that conversation with the learner to find out a little about them first in order to allow social media to do what it does best – imbue something of the individual into what they are doing with the technology.

I was lucky enough to join Daniel Scott’s session in the morning where more ideas flourished on how to engage learners, particularly with online discussion forums and groups. Facebook groups were discussed and a debate ensued about whether learners see Facebook as their personal space and don’t want their study work overlapping with this.  I do feel sometimes that we are in danger of making assumptions about what learners want, when learners are not in fact all the same and some learners are perfectly happy with the overlap that social media offers. I have to admit that I was apprehensive about setting up a Facebook group for LearnPod and was sceptical about the level of engagement we’d receive, but I am absolutely delighted to have been proven wrong and to see posts in there by others saying “this is a little out of my comfort zone but I’ll give it a go!”

Daniel went on to share how he had been using LinkedIn groups with learners to show how some social networking sites can help to get learners thinking more deeply about what they post online and how this can improve their job prospects.  I really like this idea and do feel, as many others do, that social media often tends to get demonised and the negative aspects all too often take centre stage and all the positive aspects get marginalised.  This certainly has a detrimental effect on engagement as many will shy away from even giving it a go and will miss out as a result.

The idea that engagement with technology is also intrinsically tied up with your own sense of professionalism as a teacher is also stressed in Cathy Wint’s blog post and a parallel was made in one of the discussions on the day with the question “Would you trust a doctor who had not updated their methods for ten years?” Reflecting on your own practice, sharing ideas with peers and trying out new approaches is all part and parcel of being professional in your role.  It’s great to see that many people at #LearnPod13 did exactly that, with some interesting follow-up on many of the ideas in Carolin Schneider’s post on “Go away and inspire people!” and Sukhwant Lota’s “Social Media Conference – LearnPod13.”

Senior managers are often the drivers at policy level so there was much (sometimes heated!) discussion about getting them on board. Questions such as – how do organisations change? Where does change come from? Does it come from the grass roots? The learners? The senior management team? Not easy questions to answer or indeed generalise over, but a combination of all these areas were explored to raise awareness about the advantages of technology to affect change throughout an organisation in order to to move out of the dark ages and into a more enlightened and digitally-savvy future.

Oh yes – offering free cake at drop-in sessions also seemed to be key to engaging people with technology too!

Right, enough reflecting for now, time for some doing! The organisers will be in touch again soon with some flashy photographs from the day and more useful links to share, but if I don’t see you before – #LearnPod14 anyone?


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