The Learning That Happens Outside Of The Room

After coming back to school after a couple of days at #BIT14, I can’t help but think about professional development. As many people know, I’m not a “sit and listen” kind of person. I find it very hard to focus as somebody talks to me for long periods of time. Wait until after an assembly and try asking me what happened during it. I probably couldn’t tell you. I always try to remain quiet. I always look at the speaker. But I don’t take much in. With this being said, you’d think that I’d dislike a multi-day conference like #BIT14, but in fact, the opposite is true: I love it!

Today I was thinking about why.

  • Do I always enjoy all of the sessions? No.
  • Have I walked out of sessions before because they haven’t met my needs? Yes.
  • Whether I enjoy them or not, do I still learn something from all of the sessions? Yes.
  • How is this possible? My Twitter PLN and many opportunities for communication.

At a conference like #BIT14, you’re never alone. There is often as much — if not more — action happening online as there is offline. Even though I wasn’t at the conference on Friday, I could still follow along with the tweets during my lunch hour, on my prep, and after school, and I felt like I was learning with the other people there. I could respond to comments made, share ideas, and ask questions. When in the sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, I could do the same. I often shared things that I liked about what I was learning, but I also shared some of my concerns. I tried to think about how I would bring the ideas shared in these sessions back into the classroom, and in 140 characters or less, I made commitments to making changes. Others responded to my tweets. Others suggested solutions to my concerns. Others shared their own plans of action for their own students (of varying grades). From across the room, around the building, or sometimes even outside the walls of the conference centre, numerous educators connected, communicated, and inspired each other.

I’m not saying that all educators need to be on Twitter, but I wonder what’s lost if they don’t have this way of connecting. What learning happens through these tweets? How does social media help increase interest in presentations that do not initially align with our interests or needs? I wasn’t there for George Couros‘ closing keynote speech (something that still makes me very sad), but looking at the tweet stream, he certainly seemed to share a lot on the importance of “making connections.” I know the importance of these face-to-face connections, but how are they also strengthened by our online connections? I seem to think it’s the combination of both that makes me — the person that usually struggles with listening — eager to listen and learn at this wonderful conference. What do you think?



11 thoughts on “The Learning That Happens Outside Of The Room

  1. There’s certainly power in connecting in both ways. I joined Twitter mostly because I was at the ASCD Annual Conference with over 10 000 other people that I didn’t know. Twitter helped me make some initial connections, which made me feel more important than just another face in the crowd. Twitter also helps those who can’t be there learn lots too – I love spotting a few good links from Tweets from conferences that I cannot attend.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jon! You make another important point about Twitter: making initial connections at big conferences. I did this a lot at #BIT14 too because all I saw was a sea of faces, but with a tweet, I could find some people I knew & some ones I didn’t that I wanted to meet. I wonder if those people not on Twitter miss out to an extent because they don’t get the excitement that comes from making these online connections, face-to-face ones. Thoughts?


  2. Hi Aviva: I know exactly what you are talking about in this post. For the first time this year, I had the Twitterfeed from #bit14 running on TweetDeck the whole time I was at the conference. For me, the listening was enhanced through the use of Twitter. Allow me to explain…..
    My learning style compels me to take copious handwritten notes in order to process what a speaker is saying. However, often what a speaker says is lost as I try desperately to copy down any important information illustrated on the presentation slide for that instance. I have tried taking pictures of key slides that I want to remember but found that I am not as adept at using the camera on my tablet as I need to be. By the time I had my camera enabled, my hand steady and the image focused, the presenter would have moved on to the next slide and the moment was lost. However, at this ECOO conference, because I had the Twitterfeed going, I found that I could rely on my colleagues, also in attendance AND on Twitter, to take the pictures for me. For every slide I deemed as “important”, I knew someone else would take a picture and tweet it. I found I could focus more on what the speaker was saying and less on my note-taking. For anything I missed, I could go to Twitter afterwards to retrieve the important information. In essence, all of the colleagues in attendance became my backup and support. I was connected in a way that I had never been before. I agree that it is the combination of the face-to-face connections and the online connections that adds another layer to my own learning. I’m glad that technology facilitates this. I wouldn’t be the learner I am today without it.

    • Thanks for the comment, Norma! I totally agree with what you’re saying here, and in fact, found myself looking to Twitter for notes that I missed as well. The tweets really rounded out the conference experience, while also making it so much richer! How do we help people not on Twitter see this? What other forum would allow them to make these valuable connections with others?


  3. As usual, you ask so many questions, my friend. I’ll comment on a couple of them.

    Aviva says “Have I walked out of sessions before because they haven’t met my needs? Yes.” In the past, I might have said yes as well. I don’t say that today. When I wasn’t being paged to put out fires, I stuck to the end of the sessions that I attended. There are a couple of reasons but I think the most important one is that I don’t attend sessions generally for my immediate needs anymore. I try now to sit back and think globally. Even if a session doesn’t fill my immediate needs, it is the passion of someone else and I find that really intriguing and a big kudo to our session. It makes me realize that there is so much more going on than in my little world.

    Aviva says “I know the importance of these face-to-face connections, but how are they also strengthened by our online connections?” I think that it addresses the lifelong problem with education – Isolation. I’ve mentioned many times that teaching can be the loneliest of professions, particularly if you’re the only one doing what you’re doing at your school. In my case, it was being the only computer science teacher in my school. Without connections, there is no affirmation that anything that I was doing was even remotely correct. Now, with the appropriate hashtag and connections, I can get feedback and new ideas in a matter of seconds. At the risk of copying a credit card commercial, that value is priceless.

    As always, Aviva, thanks for the questions!

    • Thanks for the comment, Doug! I had this post brewing in my head all day yesterday, and I think by the time I published it last night, my questions multiplied. Your comment about staying in a session though really made me think. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective/point of view. Even if that session doesn’t meet our immediate needs, I wonder if we can learn more from it if we think about what others got out of this learning experience. And I guess this is where Twitter is so important. Often I’ve stayed in a session I might have left because of the tweeting experience. (I’ve still left a few sessions in the past, but way less than I did before tweeting.) As people share their learning and ideas back and forth, I see value in a session that I may not have before. Another point of view can help us re-examine our own. Again, that’s why I wonder about those people that are missing out on this tweeting experience. Might they leave a session thinking that didn’t help me out, instead of seeing how it might have done so.

      As for connections, I totally agree with you on that point about “isolation.” I’ve never taught in a school before where I was the only teacher in that grade or subject area, but I have taught in places where all teachers have varying viewpoints on teaching and learning. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We can still learn a lot from each other. But if we’re trying something different than our colleagues, there’s also value in being able to share and learn with others that are doing the same. Twitter allows that to happen. For those not on it, how else can they share and learn in a similar way? Maybe another social media platform allows for this to happen, but what about those that are not using social media? Is there another option?

      Thanks for getting me to think of even more questions! 🙂

  4. I have to admit that I have never thought of Twitter as bridging the isolation that I feel on a regular basis. In my current role, that of Itinerant Teacher for Elementary Ed Tech, I am the only one in the board who fills that formalized role. I support staff in 61 Elementary schools. I love my job and find it fascinating to have the chance to see so many professionals in action. However, the isolation at times is overwhelming. Thanks Aviva for sparking the Twitter discussion and thanks Doug for reminding me to think globally and reach out through Twitter during those times when I feel the most alone.

    • Thanks again for the comment, Norma! I’m glad that this discussion helped you realize that you don’t have to be alone. This is one of the many things that I love about Twitter. We can always connect with others that are doing similar things: sharing experiences and learning from each other. As somebody that now tweets regularly, I wonder what others do that don’t have these connections.


  5. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs | doug — off the record

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