A Letter to Teachers about Learning

I’m running a course for our school staff at the moment called 23 Things. I borrowed the idea from the very successful 23 Things program run by the San Jose library, but have adapted it slightly for our particular school situation.

Essentially, the teachers work their way through 23 separate tasks, some as simple as reading a blog post or watching an online video tutorial, while some are a little more complicated such as setting up their own blog, feedreader and delicious accounts. The course runs over 9 weeks in total, and each week they are asked to do 3 or 4 “Things” – 23 in total – that will expose them to a wide range of Web 2.0 tools and ideas by the time it’s over.

I’m running the course internally using our school Moodle, and have set it up in such a way that people must sign up for the course and work their way through it a week at a time.  I thought it sounded like a good idea, and  so did they it seems… 14 teachers signed up for the course very soon after I announced it.

For all the palaver that teachers carry on with to students about the importance of time management, committment, and handing work in on time, it amazes me just how “flexible” a group of teachers expects a course to be. So far I’ve had one official drop-out, and really only 3 or 4 people who appear to be doing much at all. If this was their students that were taking such a relaxed approach to a course of study, I wonder if they would be quite so flexible and understanding.

I can’t write a note home to their parents, so instead I wrote a note to them… here’s what it said.

Some folk feel a little awkward or intimidated when they feel they don’t know how to do something… doing a course like this must feel a bit strange because you’re getting asked to do things that you have no idea how to do.

Let me remind you of something… the reason you are in this course (one can only surmise) is that you DON’T know how to do these things, but that you’d like to learn. So it’s ok not to know how to do them, or to not understand them. Applaud yourself for taking the plunge and signing up for 23 Things in an attempt to learn more about these things you don’t know.

Now, here’s a secret… if you have the Internet, you can learn to do almost anything. Try going to www.youtube.com and in the search box, type the thing you want to learn how to do… so, if you want to know how to set up Google Reader, go to YouTube and type “set up google reader“… you’ll find a bunch of tutorials to show you how. If you want to know how to make a Caesar salad, try typing in “how to make caesar salad” and viola! Dinner is almost served!

One of the unavoidable facts of life in the 21st Century is that Information is Abundant. If simple facts and data is what you need, or you want instructions on how to do something, then there is no shortage of information about it. In a previous age, school was predicated on the notion that Information is Scarce. Thanks to the Internet and tools like Google it no longer is, and this has changed the very nature of education. One of our greatest challenges in education nowadays is to deal with this idea that Information is no longer scarce… our students can (potentially) know as much (or more) than us about a particular topic. It doesn’t matter how much we know, there will always be more we don’t know.

For this reason we have to be continual learners, and we have to learn how to find answers to things that we don’t yet know. If this course was delivered face to face, I’d be able to explain and show you a lot of this stuff… but it’s not. And so you need to figure some things out for yourself and motivate yourself to find answers to problems that crop up.

By all means, I will help you if you get stuck and need a hand. But sometimes working it out for yourself can be the best thing you can do for yourself.

I have no idea whether it will make a difference or not, but I felt better after writing it.

CC BY-SA 4.0 A Letter to Teachers about Learning by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12 Replies to “A Letter to Teachers about Learning”

  1. Great post Chris. Teaching teachers is the hardest thing in the world. I started a blogging club right before my “incident” and it was like working with first graders. Many teachers don’t really want to learn new things. They pretend like they do, but when push comes to shove they would rather not look silly being the novice.

    Good luck. I love the idea of 23 tasks. We must get teachers using the tools, before we can expect them to use them in the classroom. You would be surprised that even doing something as simple as reading a blog, seems so adventurous for some.

  2. Chris , I started reading your post thinking wow, that’s pretty good getting 14 volunteers. Hmm. I really think there is something to be said for paying for a course (or knowing your school has paid for it) as an incentive to applying yourself. James Thurber said never give away a puppy because the receiver will just give it back if things don’t work out. Noone gives back a dog they’ve paid for. Not an exact analogy, but… We have had some teachers (about 5) take up the paid option to do the 23 things and we are hoping to work together as a support group, whilst having an outside mentor online. Hasn’t started yet so we’ll see.
    Marita Thomson

  3. Chris,
    What a wonderful idea. What a great way to learn about digital technology. I can understand your disappointment, but teachers are like students- think of what goes on at a staff meeting and think of what goes on in a class. Keep up the good work for those few who really want to learn. They will appreciate it. I’ll have to remind myself to do the same. 🙂 I only have about 3 or 4 teachers really interested in learning more about digital technology.

  4. Chris:
    The hardest step is the first one taken. I like the idea of 23 Things. Nine weeks can go so very quickly, though, even with the best intentions. Will they be able to keep revisiting the Moodle course once the nine weeks are complete?

    I started on my own personal journey over the course of the last year and a half and I am computer savvy. It’s taken an amazing amount of effort on my part to learn and grow with these new tools. Everything I have learned has been well worth my effort. I have benefited in ways too numerous to mention and so have my students. This past month, I signed up for the 31 Day Comment Challenge. I have every intent to continue through all 31 steps, but so many things pull me away from my intention to work on improving myself in this one way.

    I like the tone of your letter. It might be interesting to survey those who signed up for the course at its conclusion. You might learn how to make another attempt at this offering in the future go smoother.


  5. I agree with what everyone has said but I think there is also an element of “I know I should learn more about ICT, but I don’t know why and I’m really not that interested”. I think that the nature of many teachers is that they will often put up their hand to take on some new learning with the best on intentions but invariably when push comes to shove they will find that the task is too much or too time consuming. With anything that is new there are those who will and those who say they will and they don’t. At our school we have required teachers this year to create a digital portfolio using a wiki and I was talking to a colleague the other day who said that some of our teachers were really frustrated with the process because when there were problems it took so much longer to solve them because they were unsure of how to problem solve. They said that everything took so much longer than usual. That is certainly fair enough but it’s not a good enough reason to stop the process. I think that one of the unfortunate things with any new learning is that it does take longer and there is that element of frustration. And unfortunately it often falls back to those who are passionate about this who would then take the time and the effort to do the problem solving that is required. Who else would be online on a Sunday night talking to colleagues from all around the world? 🙂

  6. Hi!

    I ran into a similar issue in working on a project to help teachers with technology. Initially many were interested but in the end only a couple really came through and fully participated. However, I’d like to think that by getting a couple others will start to see what they are doing and that will kick start more interest. I’ve often found teachers are motivated by what’s going on next door…

    Great letter! I’ll be sharing it with many!

  7. Hi

    Came here via virtual Staffroom, been missing my drive to work podcasts :-). Can well and truly say I feel your pain. I offer lunchtime, during school and after-school tutorials. The number one feedback is “it’s great its one on one learning” Now this is because I only get one person showing up.

    I would be interested to see how you structured it in Moodle though.

  8. I love the 23 things theme. Someone recommended I do a “theme” for professional development and I thought they were crazy. I tried it – and it totally worked. I had a waiting list! I hope to use 23 Things as my semester long PD in the fall. Thanks!

  9. Hi Chris

    I’m just catching up with some blog reading, and found this post.

    I’m very interested to know if your letter to the group of teachers made any difference and whether you received any responses from any of them?

    I think this is a very typical situation with staff (having worked with them) in similar situations.

    It would be great to do some research into why educators opt in with enthusiasm to online training but don’t commit the time to complete what’s required.

    Do you think it’s because they think online learning will be ‘easier’ than traditional face to face training?

    Or perhaps that they are not very good self-motivated learners themselves?


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