Whirlwinds @vconnecting & #dLRN15

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

The last month has been a whirlwind. Despite the train wreck I sometimes appear to be, I am actually a bit of a planner. Sometime around August, I thought I had plenty of time to write my presentation for #dLRN15. How the bloody hell I got into presenting at this gig is still completely unbelievable to me. I thought I had plenty of time to write a fun article on hiking to fire lookouts in Washington State. Plenty of time to write. Plenty of time.

Then the whirlwind of trying to get the job of my dreams swept me up, and suddenly that time was sailing off into the sky. Putting a two-week notice in at work at a time when we were already short staffed felt like the winds of change had spun into a giant hurricane. Having worked at that college for 12 years left me with a ton of files. A ton of work to file. A ton to sort, transfer, translate, and delete. Saying goodbye to so many people I love, admire, and adore has been incredibly difficult. I feel like I’m leaving the department better than I found it, but I also know it’s not going to be easy for people I’ve left behind for the next few months.

Yesterday was the last day of the job and today I’m in airports traveling down the west coast to Stanford University for the Digital Learning Research Network (#dLRN15 on the Twitterific). For those of you unfamiliar with this conference, here is the blurb:

The dLRN Conference – Making Sense of Higher Education 2015 – will offer a state of the field assessment from top international researchers and educators. Conference sessions and speakers will explore the most pressing uncertainties and most promising applications of digital networks for learning and the academy through five lenses: The Ethics of Collaboration, Individualized Learning, Systemic Impacts, Innovation and Work, and Sociocultural Implications. 

When I first saw the call for participation, I started to carve out time on my calendar to read and follow along because there was no way in hell that anything I was doing would be interesting to these people. These people, unlike me, I thought, are the Big Dogs of EdTech. Of teaching and learning online. Of everything I find really interesting with teaching and learning these days. When I saw the names Kate Bowles, Bonnie Stewart, Mike Caulfield, and Dave Cormier–I thought, double high-five Random Dude for helping make this happen. You rock! I’ll watch with interest. I’ll read with inquiries. I’ll tweet. I’ll make a point to do what is called is lurking.

Let me tell you how much I hate that word. Lurk.

Lurk–rhymes with jerk. Lurk–rhymes with irk. Lurk–rhymes shirk. Lurk–rhymes with squirt. Lurk–rhymes with Kirk. As in Captain Kirk. Okay, that’s better.

But really, the term “lurk” makes online non-participatory readers and thinkers seem like creepy voyeurs. As people who are not invited. As people who are not welcomed. Lurking on the internet–that irks me. Can we please stop using that word to describe who learn with us? Who read with us? Who share with us?

Let me drop some wisdom from Captain James T. Kirk:

They used to say that if Man was meant to fly, he’d have wings. But he did fly. He discovered he had to.

Let me also drop some wisdom from some Random Dude who shares why he saying Adios Ed [to] Tech. Hola something [to] else. In the following excerpt, he summarizes my frustration with eLearning and something I was tempted to put in my resignation letter:

Sit and click. Sit and click. So much of learning involves decision making, developing meta-cognitive skills, exploring, finding passion, taking peripheral paths. Automation treats the person as an object to which things are done. There is no reason to think, no reason to go through the valuable confusion process of learning, no need to be a human. Simply consume. Simply consume. Click and be knowledgeable.

My framework for technologies in the edtech space now, those that I find empowering for learners and reflective of a human and creative-oriented future, includes five elements:

1. Does the technology foster creativity and personal expression?

2. Does the technology develop the learner and contribute to her formation as a person?

3. Is the technology fun and engaging?

4. Does the technology have the human teacher and/or peer learners at the centre?

5. Does the technology consider the whole learner?

A-frickin-men. What he said.

Kate Bowles takes up this radical notion of considering humans before the technology in the stitches of the day post:

First of all, what if we imagined higher education as a person? 
Would it be someone who shares our views, or someone different? Would we enjoy being around this person? Standing at the foot of this sign I realised that I often find myself thinking of higher education as someone I wouldn’t want to get stuck next to on a plane. This is even though I have inspiring and encouraging professional and academic colleagues, at every level including those who manage my work.

Kate’s use of an awful airplane partner reminds me of two things. 1] Richard Branson’s “disrupt education nonsense” that Alan Levine and others hopped all over to make fun of—thank you for the laughs.

And 2] recently I was stuck on a plane in the middle seat between two very large men. The sheer girth of their upper bodies crept into my middle seat, and I felt cramped. Grumpy. Bitter. Then the one guy said, “Well, I guess were going to get close on this flight. You’re the same size as my girlfriend and she always complains about how much space I take up. I’m really sorry.”

And he tried to pull himself in closer and shrink his upper chest. One exhale and his elbows were right in my seat again. I shrunk up my arms to type like a pterodactyl. Sorry, he said, can I buy you a drink?

I’ve used Sarte’s “Hell is other people” a lot but you know sometimes, it’s pretty heavenly. It’s genuine. It’s exactly what helps me make sure my inner moody loner doesn’t get lonely.

On Kate’s post, she picks up on this feeling with an excerpt from the fabulous Catherine Cronin:

what does it take to see something beautiful in the future of human learning, that makes it still worth working towards that future together?

As the terrain beneath and surrounding higher education shifts, what possible futures do you see? Are any of them beautiful?

Yes, a lot of them are beautiful. A lot them can be very beautiful.

Here’s the thing:

I never in a gazillion years thought I’d get accepted to present at this conference. When I asked my brilliant editor, aka my husband, to read over my proposal, he read it with the same obligatory gusto he normally does with my work. And he knew I was sad I got the diss for OpenEd.

So basically, you’re pitching the idea that institutions should pay adjuncts to collaborate online to improve their teaching? At Stanford? In Palo Alto? How will you substantiate that in Silicon Valley? he asked.

This is about the future, yo. These people are big dogs in EdTech, but they love the little dogs. They’ll get it. Don’t you fret.

He helped me iron out the title of my paper/preso: “Chihuahuas Among The New Foundlands: The Need For Practice 2.0” and with this title, I tried to do three things.

1] I love a bit of an abstract title that tells you bit yet leaves more open for interpretation. I’ve served on a few conference planning committees, and titles are everything. Organizers need to drum up interest, so hook a sister up on a committee and get nutty with your titles, people, it helps make that planning process easier.

2] I wanted to keep it vague enough that I could change my mind 7,891 times before the presentation and drive myself batty with options. I’m still not done. (Christamighty).

3] I wanted to play on the 2.0 technology talk. So many salespeople hit me up with 2.0 this and 2.0 that and how their product will help my teachers better. Faster. Cheaper. I deleted all emails from all of the disruptor 2.0 snake-oil companies. Click and Delete.

The only company I built a relationship with on behalf of my teachers was Lumen Learning. Sorry, other non-Lumen product people, I’m sure you’re lovely, but your 2.0 sucks just as much as 1.o.

The 2.0 idea that I’m going to pitch will be filled (I hope) with solutions to problems I know exist because I’ve witnessed them firsthand. I’ve suffered because of them. My students suffered because of them. Adjuncts suffer because of them. People suffer.

One of the “out there” solutions is already happening and succeeding quite well without my start-up help! I’ve watched the folks getting Virtually Connected off the ground or into the interwebs and I’ve been delighted to [enter word that is not lurk here].

There is joy in that collaboration. Connectedness. Meaning. Love. Respect. Pride. Awe. Participation for people who can’t be there for a variety of reasons. You don’t just sit and click. You don’t want to change your airline seat. You feel happily connected with people.

Here’s what it looked like for me yesterday, and it was pretty cool.

And check me out. I get there late. I have to switch browsers. I stumble through my introduction. I look like a gigantic dork. I about bounce out of my chair when Lisa Chamberlin shows up. But you know what? I got to experience what it feels like to be there virtually. To be virtually connecting. And dammit, it was fun.

So this blog is my attempt to see if I can write a post between two airports while extending an invitation to join us if you can. Or watch later. Either way, that’s the magic of the internets.

It’s there for you when you are ready to learn.

Now for the #dLRN15. Hope to see ya on the Internets, kids. I got a plane to catch cuz I’m going back to Cali!

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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