Learning new things can be hard. After almost a decade in academia, as a grad student and then a post-doc, I recently made a big career shift into a nonprofit job. A month ago, I became a program associate at the National Writing Project, where I work with the Connected Learning Alliance to produce a monthly webinar series on Connected Learning TV. It’s been a great fit since both organizations are deeply committed to writing, innovation, and education as a tool for social change, and I’m also surrounded by impressive and supportive colleagues and mentors.
But, there’s been a learning curve. For instance, I singlehandedly caused a website crash on my first day, and even though it could only go uphill from there, it definitely took this dinosaur learning some new tricks to get caught up to speed. One evening, after coming to terms with some of my own limitations, I admitted exhaustion to my husband, a high school English teacher.
“If it makes you feel any better,” he said, “I don’t often feel like I have a lot of opportunities to improve my own skills. By the time I grade papers, lesson plan, and spend every staff meeting analyzing student data, there aren’t many hours left in the day—and that’s before coming home to this ragamuffin,” he said, nodding at our 20-month-old tossing his dinner to our two dogs circling the high chair.
His admission made me think about an email from the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub about its June 13th Educator Workshops that had landed in my inbox a few days prior. Connected Learning TV is working with the DML Hub this month on a webinar series showcasing themes and participants from the sixth annual conference, DML2015: Equity by Design, so I’d spent a good deal of time familiarizing myself with conference materials and learning about all it has to offer.
The DML Educator Workshops in particular offer the kind of immersive learning experiences and skill development opportunities so many educators desire, but don’t always have the resources or capacity to seek out. The workshops help educators learn about successful connected learning programs in schools, libraries, and other spaces; equity in educational technology; and design of new curriculum—and they all happen in one day, on a Saturday, so time-crunched educators who can’t attend the entire conference can take full advantage of them.
Participants will be able to learn how to use Minecraft in the classroom, explore digital storytelling to communicate experiences of underrepresented students, make LED light-up books, learn about the connections between hip-hop and coding, and more. Educators can purchase a specially-priced DML Educator Pass for $50 if they’d like to attend Saturday’s workshops.
In addition to the Educator Workshops, DML2015 as a whole is sure to be a productive, interesting, and informative event for all attendees. Some of the nation’s top scholars and practitioners in digital media and education will come together to think about how learning organizations and institutions can explore ways for youth to engage in meaningful and relevant learning. Conversations will move beyond the question of access to encompass broader, more comprehensive approaches to the relationship between educational technologies and equity.
Kris D. Gutiérrez, a UC Berkeley professor of language, literacy and culture and this year’s DML Conference chairwoman explains, “Equity is not just about access. It involves a new social and pedagogical imagination about how youth and people from non-dominant communities can become designers of their own futures. This is a global issue with huge implications for youth across the globe, and we aim to create a national conversation about how we can do our work in more mindful ways that put at the center equity and rich forms of learning that matter to people.”
From my perspective, that’s one of the things that makes DML2015 and this year’s educator workshops so unique—underlying these opportunities to expand teaching and mentoring repertoires is the notion that by doing so, we might make our classrooms and communities more equitable spaces; by embracing connected learning and taking even small steps to build new skills, educators can make a radical difference. Truthfully, most educators I know got into the field because they wanted to change the world, and they do change the world every day by supporting their students to become agents in their own learning.
Back at NWP and Connected Learning TV, I’m making strides toward expanding my own knowledge so that I can support these projects to the best of my abilities. Not only that, I gain confidence with each day that passes, and I’ve found that building my skills has actually been fun and has connected me with new communities of learning. So, yes, learning new things really can be hard, but the rewards are great. What’s more, you never know when a small change—whether in your classroom or your boardroom—can make a big impact.
By Liana Gamber-Thompson