Name: Todd Conaway (Faculty site, TheWholeClassroom.com, YouTube, @todd_conaway)
Organization: Yavapai College
Current title: Instructional Designer
Selected accolades: Departmental 2012 Award for eLearning in technical support and service from the ITC ((ITC Announces the Recipients of the ITC 2012 Awards for Excellence in eLearning)), blessed with a wonderful family, almost 1000 miles walked in the Grand Canyon
What skill(s) do you feel are most important for today’s students to explore in academic settings (tech or non-tech related)?
Curiosity. Passion. Learning to learn. Finding relevance. I don’t think we need to always address the “why are we doing this?” all the time in classes, but I do think that in many cases we have lost that conversation and part of the result is disconnectedness from the “real world” that lives outside the classroom walls.
What we are calling “21st century skills” is simply literacy, and it is part of all literacy that involves words, numbers, sounds, graphs, images, and videos among many other types of information. As long as we continue to separate “digital” or “technological” from other types of media literacy, we will do our students a disservice. In many places it is an amazing and powerful part of our ability to be citizens and do good things.
For a teacher looking to use technology to connect with students, enhance learning or embrace 21st century skills, where do you suggest one begin?
I suggest to teachers that they will learn tools most quickly and deeply of they have a personal connection to the content they explore with the tool. For example, I would never tell a teacher new to Facebook to go create a group for their class and start using Facebook ((http://www.facebook.com)). I would suggest they begin to use it with their family and friends. Maybe create a page or a group around a club they belong to. It is safer and they may take more risks because of that. By taking the risks they will fail more and therefore either learn, or quit.
Using a blog to narrate a vacation a teacher is taking, or creating a family blog that members can make contributions to is a way into a blog that might be less threatening. So many of the “social” tools have been stigmatized into these, “What I had for lunch” type places. It is unfortunate and I think that trying to get to understand the sharing/privacy settings of these tools is pretty important.
Google Docs ((http://docs.google.com)) are a great tool for sharing family information or for community clubs and organizations. Most any of the digital tools, like the web itself, are simply places to create and share content. Or not share it. I remember my dad’s reaction when he got to see his two granddaughters sing him happy birthday from a few hundred miles away. If YouTube can be learned in the context of communicating with people you have relationships with, it is easy to make the leap into the classroom.
What is the best part of your job?
Talking with teachers in their offices and listening to them describe the frustrations and successes they have in classes. I enjoy wondering aloud with groups of teachers and hearing ideas and aspirations. I also enjoy the challenges of doing presentations online and F2F. I have this vision of a great emotional experience, one that shares way more than a tool or an idea, one that helps people to want to go somewhere better.
What was your path to your current position?
I knew from my early experiences at Prescott College ((http://www.prescott.edu)) that I wanted to be a teacher. It was clear that what they were doing was somehow better than what I had experienced at other schools. And after a couple years there I know I wanted to work with teachers in some capacity. Teaching high school classes I found myself often being the person my colleagues looked to for advice about the application of computers in coursework. What I learned after some time of doing that was that I was not so much talking to them about how to use a piece of software in a class, but rather broader concepts like student-centered learning, experiential education, and alternatives to traditional assessment and grading strategies. One day I read a job description of an instructional designer and I thought, “That is what I do.” So here I am, sharing ideas with teachers about learning, schooling, and teaching.
On your blog, you are experimenting with a number of various communication tools: G+ hangouts ((https://plus.google.com/hangouts/)), Hoot.me ((http://www.hoot.me)), Collaborate ((http://www.blackboard.com/Platforms/Collaborate/Overview.aspx)), FB chat, Google Doc chat, uStream ((http://www.uStream.com)), etc. How are you deciding which tool is right for each experience? Any suggestions for people interested in experimenting? Any open opportunities for educators to join existing online conversations?
In education we talk a lot about the tools themselves and the various advantages of one over another. My daughter just uses the ones that suit her need to communicate.Folks who have grown up with these tools seem more interested in completing the task than wondering if the tool is the correct one. I like to sit in a coffee shop and talk with people and I feel just fine sitting at a desk Skyping with someone while drinking my own brew of coffee. Obviously I can communicate with people geographically distant from me and that is really important because they are smart people and I want to hear what they have to say!
The Google+ Hangouts have been opened up a good deal of sharing and communicating for me. The video is really good and they are easy to join. In the last couple months I have sat and talked with people from all over that I knew of, had had conversations with on blogs and Twitter, but never face to face in real time. It is a great way to communicate. And it is free.
I think people experience communications differently when there are faces or voices than they do if the communication is completely textual. No better or worse really and I think it depends on the person, but it is different. So video tools offer something that say a Google Doc chat does not. Of course you can do both in Google+ but only with 10 videos feeds. All the tools have strengths and limitations. If the group you are working with is already engaged in Facebook then maybe Hoot or a FB chat is a good idea. If you are already using a Google Group then a jump to G+ Hangouts is pretty easy. As for experimenting with these tools I vote that they are tried first with friends or family and users become understanding of the environment in a safe place. Then look for places to participate in other areas. They are out there. None of this happens instantly. Any network takes time to develop.