Real Life and Real Life Learning

Kent Peterson, Chris Betcher, Linda Johannesson and Susan SedroiIn previous posts, I’ve mentioned how nice it is to occasionally convert some of our online connections into real ones.  This week I had the opportunity to again meet up with someone I’d only ever know through the blogosphere.

Susan Sedro is a teacher at the Singapore American School where she does ICT support for years 3, 4 and 5.  The first time I “met” her was during a group Skype call back in September last year and since that time we have read each other’s blogs, chatted occasionally on Skype and, along with Kim Cofino, even recorded an episode of Virtual Staffroom together.

I’d noticed that Susan was asking some very Aussie-centric questions on Twitter a while back, wanting to know the best places to go snorkelling on the Barrier Reef, etc, so I assumed she might be planning a trip down here.  We got in contact and I said if she was in Australia to give me a yell and we’d catch up.  Well, she yelled and we caught up.

So last Wednesday night, Linda and I met Susan and her partner Kent in front of the Orient Hotel at the Rocks here in Sydney.  We had a very pleasant evening wandering around the city, starting by catching a cab down to Darling Harbour, walking across the old Pyrmont Bridge to have an al-fresco dinner and a few beers at the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel, followed by a walk through Darling Harbour, up Liverpool Street through the Spanish Quarter, left into George Street past Town Hall and St Andrews Cathedral and all the way down to Wynyard Station.  It was a nice night for a walk and we had a good chat about all sorts of things, some education-related, and some not.

I made the offer to Susan and Kent to drop into my school, PLC, at some stage if they had time.  Fortunately, their plans for the next day had them catching a train that went right through Croydon so they took me up on the offer and popped in on their way.  We did a quick tour of some of the school, and even dropped into one of the computer rooms where Year 4 was having a lesson and had a chat with some of the kids.

My school runs a program called Transition Class, which caters for special needs students with fairly significant learning disabilities.  These students, about 20 of them, attend regular classes but also focus on learning a lot of life skills.  To help facilitate this, PLC bought a house next door to the school which they call Transition House and the kids regularly spend time there, learning very practical skills to teach them to look after themselves. One of the wonderful things these kids do every term is called Transition Cafe, where they host and manage a cafe luncheon for PLC staff… the menu is prepared, orders are taken and the food is cooked and served by the transition students and it’s a wonderful example of real life, relevant learning in action. Kent and Susan’s visit just happened to coincide with this term’s Transition Cafe event so of course they were invited to join us for lunch at the table reserved for the IT Services team.  We all had a very pleasant time sitting in the sunshine, chatting and being served by our wonderful transition kids.

I had to sneak off from lunch a little early as I had an IWB workshop I’d promised to run for our Creative Arts staff.  I left Susan and Kent in the capable hands of our IT Director, Chris Waterman, who escorted them over to meet me just as the IWB session was winding up, and we took another quick tour through The Croydon, an old pub that was bought by the school a few years ago and converted to our centre for technology and the arts, before eventually bidding them farewell as they continued on with their day.

Meeting IRL is a good thing… If you ever get the chance to meet up with colleagues you’ve only ever known through the network, I’d encourage you to do it.  It was terrific to meet Susan and Kent, and I’m hoping to be able to take them up on their offer to catch up in Singapore one day.

I think it would be rather nice to sit and share a beer or two at Raffles Hotel.  🙂

In Real Life

One of the really cool things about being a globally connected teacher is the opportunities to develop relationships with other like-minded educators. As I’ve said once or twice before, learning is a conversation and as we start to engage in that conversation it continues to feed our need for ongoing learning. Web 2.0 tools like Twitter and the blogosphere, as well as some still-useful “old skool” technologies like Skype, email and mobile phones means that we can be incredibly connected to each other if we choose to be.

I started hanging around online communities a long time ago; in fact, as a teenager I was a geeky kid with a Citizens Band radio and used to sit in my room late at night having conversations with lots of people from all over Sydney and beyond that I mostly never met. (I say “mostly”, because I did actually meet a few of my CB buddies and became quite good long-term friends with some of them) When I got into computers I remember the excitement of logging onto the old fashioned BBSes (bulletin boards systems) and posting disembodied text threads back and forward with other users… the technology was the exciting part and it was easy to overlook the fact that these invisible “users” were real people just like me. Ah, good times.

As online communities started springing up all over the place in the mid 90s, I joined lots of them. Forums, discussion boards, IRC chat and IM… what these tools have always facilitated is conversation, which is critical to feeling connected and engaging with ideas. Occasionally, I have had the opportunity to connect with people from these lists IRL (in real life). I remember the first time I ever met someone IRL from the OzTeachers list… I was going to Canberra on a business trip and since I had engaged in many interesting exchanges with a Canberra based teacher-librarian called Barbara Braxton, I emailed her offlist to suggest that I drop in and have a look around her school. It’s a really nice experience to meet someone IRL whom you have only ever known virtually, and Barbara spent a good hour or so giving me a grand tour around her school.

Not long after that I had to go to Perth to run some workshops so I contacted another OzTeacher from Fremantle, Bryn Jones. I met Bryn at his place and then he and I went for a few beers down on the Freo docks and shared a few stories and ideas about education and life in general. Since then, I’ve met a number of other people from the OzTeachers list, including Adrian Greig, Fiona Banjer, Kerry Smith, Mal Lee, John Pearce and others. While being a member of an online community is a great thing, being able to put a face to the name and get to know someone in real life adds a wonderful extra dimension.

A few days ago I noticed on Twitter that Barbara Dieu from Brasil was visiting Sydney. I tweeted a quick G’day and said that maybe we should get together. Barbara thought it a good idea, so I tried to round up a few other Sydney bloggers to join us. In the end, it just ended up being the infamous Judy O’Connell from the heyjude blog, so the other night Judy, Barbara and I met up for dinner at a little café in Newtown. (The same café where Judy, Westley Fields and others had dinner with Alan Levine on his recent trip to Sydney)  It was really neat to meet IRL like this… I’d met Judy briefly at a conference a few months prior, and Barbara and I had exchanged a few emails when we almost presented a session together with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai last year, but to actually get together for a drink, dinner and some great stories just adds a very special dimension to the online relationships that Web 2.0 enables.  (Even as I wrote that last sentence, it really hit me just how amazing these connections are and how much connectivity comes out of what seem to be fairly tenuous links… I guess that’s the strength of weak ties.)

As we sat chatting we marveled at the ease with which tools like Twitter and Skype enabled us to make connections and then organise and coordinate an event like this, but the real lesson that I took from the experience was to remind myself that these networks we create are NOT about computers and technology, they are about PEOPLE. Especially for those others who just look on at what we do, who see us spending lots of time in front of a computer, it very easy to overlook the fact that we are not spending all this time just tapping on a keyboard and interacting with bits and bytes, chips and circuits… we are interacting with real, flesh-and-blood, honest-to-goodness people.

Of course, if any of you are ever in Sydney then we should meet up.  I know this great little café in Newtown…

Sitting by the Fireside

picture-3-1.jpgThe Fireside chat took place this morning for the K12 Online Conference. There was a good roll-up of attendees via the Elluminate platform, topping out at one point at about 110 people. David Warlick was on hand to answer some questions from the group, and people were firing questions at him at a rapid pace. The chat stream was like a fast-flowing river, with comment after comment after comment streaming up the screen. Sometimes I wonder how effective these really large chat streams are, as it’s so hard to have a deep discussion let alone a coherent conversation! As someone noted in the chat, it was like being ADD on steroids.

However, the opportunity to connect with a worldwide group of educators and engaging in discussion and conversation about things that we think matter was wonderful. David did well to field the diverse (and sometimes quite difficult!) questions from members of the group. I even got to throw a question to David myself.

Virtual environments like this are an interesting experience, and it was clear that it was a new experience for many there. It was great to see so many people turn up for it, take part in the event, and learn from it.

You can listen to the audio version of the chat here (53 Minutes, 17Mb)… unfortunately, Audio Hijack didn’t get both sides of the conversation all the time, so you can’t hear all of the questions being asked by the audience, but you do get the answers from David and the Moderators. Still, I’m sure you’ll get the idea!

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