How Do We Know What We Don't Know? by Bob Sprankle

Last Friday I had the pleasure of seeing an incredible presentation from Wes Fryer ---right in my own district! (You can watch the whole UStream of it, and see Wes' post and slideshow here). As always, Wes ROCKED and teachers were appreciative of the message as well as time to work on some of the tools that Wes introduced them to.

In summing up, at the end of it all, time was given to closing questions. One teacher asked a great question that I hear often at workshops:

"How do we know what we don't know?"

In other words, how does one continue exploring and discovering the possibilities out there if you're not aware of what's out there to discover? Or more importantly: how do we sustain the Technology Integration learning after the presenter has left?

Workshops are great opportunities (especially when you get someone like Wes Fryer), but we've all witnessed the excitement and understanding that's been offered by the speaker wane after she/he has left the building. Before you know it, we're back in our day-to-day, overcrowded routines and all those great promises we made during the workshop fade away.

No matter what the topic of the workshop/presentation that's given, there will be some in the audience who've already gotten on board with the message. Perhaps they've already had exposure, or done professional reading that prepared them for the workshop. Then there are the folks that are hearing the message for the first time, perhaps no fault of their own (after all, we all have to have a "first," or the introductory phase, to the concept or topic).

If we look at the topic of Web 2.0 or Technology Integration or 21st Century Skills, or whatever you want to call it, the conversations have been going on for a long time. My own journey probably truly started when I became a teacher 13 years ago, but even then, there have been deeper levels of understanding and appreciation along the way. However, the conversation is much, much older than my own 13 year involvement.

So let's examine the "newbie." Let's imagine what it's like for him/her who is just coming into the conversation. Perhaps he/she is a veteran teacher, or perhaps they're fresh out of the gate. What must that feel like? I imagine it's a bit like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. I imagine it must be completely overwhelming.

I remember last year attending an Elluminate session online. I don't remember what group was hosting it or even what the topic was about, but I do remember that the room was full and most of the names of the participants were people I had seen or worked with elsewhere in other areas of my Personal Learning Network. It's a wonderful feeling to enter a room of over 100 participants and be welcomed by people who know your name or who you already have some connection to. Much of the conversation flows smoothly because it is a continuation from previous work with many of the same people.

As all the "hellos" and greetings of friends "waving" to each other were happening at the beginning of the session, I suddenly realized what the scene must have looked like or felt for someone who is completely NEW and entering into this type of experience for the first time. It must feel like suddenly being plopped down on an entirely new planet with people speaking a foreign language.

I could see how uncomfortable that would be. I could imagine my own self feeling completely overwhelmed and fleeing from the room. It would feel like what was happening in that room was MAMMOTH and that I was far, far behind from where everyone else was at and that I would never catch up.

And of course, that's the last thing we want people coming to the conversation (at any point) to feel. We want them to know that we've been there, at the beginning, at one point too. We want to help them through the process of finding their way through all of the tools and information and websites and Twitters and Blogs and Flickrs and Wikis and Podcasts and all these other things that they've never heard of.

We want them to feel comfortable. We don't want to scare them off.

Truth is, however, there is SO much out there. It can be daunting even if you are already immersed in the conversation.

So here's my question: Where do you take that newbie? What tool, experience, blog, book, podcast, etc. do you offer up first? What's the best way to "hook" them and yet not "freak" them out. For instance, I imagine that many of us would introduce people to before diigo. Personally, I appreciated diigo more and refer to it as "on steroids," but I can see that all that it has to offer may be overwhelming to someone who is new to online "bookmark sharing."

Please add your own anecdotes, thoughts, resources, books, sites, etc. that you use to help introduce people to that which they don't know that they don't know about. Think back to your own experience as a "newbie." What helped you?

Image: "Question from the Audience" by
sean dreilinger