Don’t Try This at Home
I did a session with Mike Agostinelli at NCCE 2013 this week about peer learning. I thought I’d try to model peer learning in the session, and the results were quite unexpected and very powerful.
The initial plan for the hour-long session was to ask people to start by sharing their experiences with peer learning, to share a bit of my thoughts about it, to show a few online tools that can facilitate peer learning (Twitter, P2PU), and then to spend the last 30 minutes on a live #connectedpd tweet chat about peer learning.
Here is the slide deck I planned to use.
As a fairly non-traditional topic and not a “high interest” one (e.g. not “300 apps in 60 minutes”), I thought the audience would be small. We had about 20 people.
I decided to sit out in the room instead of standing behind the presenter’s table, again to try to model a peer driven approach.
I started with my plan for the session and then asked everyone to share why they’d come and what they hoped to get out of it. (I also invited people to leave if the session wasn’t what they were expecting or if they didn’t think it would be useful to them. A couple did.)
When people shared their expectations and previous experiences with peer learning, they were predictably diverse. We talked a bit about PLCs and experiences with district-provided PD, and then a woman in the group said that she was starting a “teacher-led school” soon and wondered if we might talk about that.
My reactions were (a) how fascinating and (b) what a great way launching into this would be to model peer learning. There followed a spirited discussion of what a teacher-led school might look like, administrator roles, what systemic challenges schools have that may limit well-intended administrators, etc.
At some point, the woman expressed a concern that maybe we didn’t want to spend the whole session on this. There were indeed other things I’d planned to cover, but thought it was well worth diverging to experience this kind of peer learning firsthand.
As the scheduled time for the #connectedpd tweet chat approached, I suggested that we continue the conversation but move it to Twitter. I asked who had experience with Twitter and who didn’t and asked people to form small clusters to teach each other the basics of Twitter.
We jumped into the tweet chat with an unstructured format of small groups helping each other and me periodically giving some overall suggestions about how Twitter and tweet chats work.
It was a bit chaotic, but many meaningful conversations were going on. Much of that conversation continued to be verbal in the room, and we were trying to learn Twitter at the same time. At one point I said, “If we say these things on the tweet chat, we’ll also get the benefit of a whole lot more people talking with us.”
Did I mention that the wireless at this conference was a little shaky? And in the middle of the tweet chat, Howard Rheingold joined it? And that it was chaotic? (Here’s the Storify version.)
And man, was it fun! Afterward, I asked the participants – particularly those who had no previous experience with Twitter – if the format had worked for them. Most everyone said it was a valuable experience. Many of us connected on Twitter and agreed to stay in touch. Learning Twitter in the context of talking about peer learning seemed to bring a new level of meaning and authenticity. I suspect that more people than usual will come back to it after the conference.
At the end, I thought “this was kind of like an un-session!” And I would definitely do this again. I think that every time would be completely different.
I greatly appreciate everyone who took part and took the risk to participate in this experiment, including Claudia at #connectedpd. I hope you enjoyed it was much as I did.