October 6, 2016

How are Digital Learning Educators Made?

Category: Digital Learning
Educator presenting at DML 2015

Last year, I read Elizabeth Green’s “Building a Better Teacher” and it changed the way I understood education in America.

Fundamental to this essential history (of recent efforts at education reform, not just in the U.S. but around the world) is the question of whether teachers are born or made. The book’s subtitle telegraphs Green’s answer “How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone).” If teachers are born, then all we need to do is support those inherently strong at it then push out the rest. If they are made, however, the task is much harder, but more hopeful, as we can instead develop successful strategies to support educators to develop the complex skill sets required to inspire and inform the next generation.

Through my read, I kept reflecting on its lessons and comparing them back with my own experiences, now in my 16th year in after-school learning institutions. As a digital learning educator, was I born or made? What did I learn at Global Kids and, more recently, at the American Museum of Natural History, that made me so effective at weaving digital learning tools, strategies, and pedagogies into curricula? How did I become so skilled at leading groups of 20-30 students through a digitally-infused learning process?

Rather than answer these questions on my own, I thought — on the eve of the Digital Media and Learning Conference — we could explore them together. So, in essence, I pose to you: How are digital learning educators made?

If your are a formal teacher in a formal school, there are all sorts of ways you became certified to be in your classroom. But, did any of them include preparations or ongoing support to integrate a connected learning-style pedagogy? And, if not, how did you learn to do what you do?

Inversely, if you work in an informal educational setting (I work in a museum, for example), I am presuming you are like most people I meet in our diverse but related fields. You learned it on the job. Again, I want to know how. Did you have any training before the first time you met with your first group of learners? What forms of on-going feedback, mentoring, professional development exist to help you not just support the youth within your organization but to continually improve your abilities to do so?

Whatever your answers might be, whatever supports and training you might have had or not had, PLEASE share below. Let’s watch for patterns and see what emerges. Will we find that some spaces have more institutional support for teacher/facilitator training than others? Some with more freedom to innovate? Some with better abilities to identify effective and rigorous teaching methods and the mechanisms to identify them and institutionalize their practices?

Or, are we all just floundering around, cobbling it all together at conferences like DML the best we can?

Banner image credit: DML Research Hub