“Where Do I Start?”: Beginning the Digital Journey in the Classroom

Curated by Kim Jaxon
January 11, 2012

You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.
~H.G. Wells

There is a scenario becoming all too familiar: a group of people, perhaps teachers, sitting in a meeting, attending a conference, or even sharing a meal, when the conversation turns toward technology. As people share insights, exchange favorite sites, debate the use of digital tools and spaces, some people simply shut down. Or if they’re brave, they may share, with often a hint of frustration: “I don’t even know where to start.” And they are brave. You are brave. How do any of us know where to start? Learning something new becomes even more problematic and powerful when we realize that learning is not simply learning to do something; learning also means becoming another kind of person. It’s an identity shift or even a loss of identity. As one colleague shared with me recently, “I’m not a geek and never will be, but I also feel like new ideas are passing me by every time someone says Diigo, Prezi, Twitter…it’s simply overwhelming.”

I’d like to take a small step towards exploring the question “where do I start?” when thinking about new technologies. But instead of leading with something that may cause varying degrees of anxiety, I’d like you to consider something more positive first: Think about something you’ve learned to do well. Perhaps you are a proficient baker, mechanic, soccer coach, bargain shopper, or musician?

I’ll give you a moment.

Now ask: How did I learn to do that or become that person? What resources and material conditions mattered as I developed an identity around this activity? What spaces mattered? What mentoring did I receive? How did I learn to be a part of the discourse community that surrounds that activity?

Another moment.

When I ask students to answer these questions, it is because I want them to think about learning, particularly the social nature of learning. I also want them to remember that learning to be a certain kind of person—a person who plays the guitar or a person who writes—is made up of a complex ecology of mentors, activities, spaces, tools, and language. Even as we become mentors ourselves in areas of interest, we often realize that we’re never really done learning how to be this person, never really done thinking, improving, or innovating.

My hope would be that you could take this feeling of competence in some task–combined with an understanding that learning to do something you feel good about is complicated–and apply that to your approach to learning about digital spaces and tools. What resources might you need? What spaces matter? Who could function as a mentor? Where could you start?

The resources in this collection start with that final premise: How do teachers get started? What can we learn from the digital journey of other educators? The resources here function both as stories of teachers who struggled and figured something out and as examples you might start with in your own classroom. The stories are compelling and the work they did with students is doable.

Joe Wood narrates his first technical adventure, Renee Webster shares a low-tech, but high impact classroom structure involving her young students’ “book talks,” Jason Shiroff offers a look into the use of wikis, Leslie Moitoza models how to be both author and teacher of multimodal texts, and Janelle Bence helps us to imagine how we might expand our own knowledge through inquiry.  All of these teachers—Joe, Renee, Jason, Leslie, and Janelle—offer us a place to start.

What's Inside