2 minutes and 2 years
I set up Edmodo accounts for my classes last week, and I was so enthusiastic about the results that I blabbed about them to anyone who would listen. One particularly pragmatic colleague asked me an essential question: “How long did it take you to create an account and get your kids logged in and everything else?”
“Two minutes!” I blurted out, punctuating my enthusiasm, but then I paused as I remembered that I had been wanting to subscribe to Edmodo for two years.
I had originally settled on Edmodo after a Twitter experiment had gone wrong in one of my classes. I was using a private Twitter feed to communicate with my students, but someone hacked into it and started spamming us — so I retired the account. I asked my tech coordinator if she could think of another, more edu-friendly system, and she immediately suggested Edmodo. I wrote the name on a to-do list, looked at it from time to time, moved it to other to-do lists, even put it on a calendar, but I never spent the two minutes it would take to create an account and help my students register for my course.
I now use Edmodo with my students for the same reason I once sought to use Twitter: microblogging, in just the right dose, is an ideal way to help students crystallize what they learn. My daily question/task with Edmodo is simple, and it now happens at the end of each class: “Write down, in crystal clear language, the most important thing you learned today in class.” Students think back through our various activities . . . they summarize and evaluate . . . they type . . . they walk out the door . . . Edmodo populates . . . we have a running record of insights. I, as the teacher, have a handle on the geography of understanding in each class. Students, as the learners, can see what other students learned and how they articulated that learning. If I see something that’s wildly off base, I can course correct by adding a comment. It’s neat AND it works.
But this post isn’t (only) about the value of microblogging in the classroom. It’s about examining my habits and the habits of others by asking a (the?) proverbial ed-tech question: what the heck took me so long? Why did it take me two years (and two minutes) to discover a solution that was sitting, literally, at the tips of my fingers?
I can only say that the power of habit is much stronger than I sometimes think it is. Years can go by while you’re thinking about making a simple, even slight, change. Breaking work patterns is difficult; breaking the cycle of applications we use and the websites we visit is difficult; doing what works better rather than what works okay is difficult.
I’m a big fan of the work of Tony Schwartz who in a recent HBR video says that we (busy professionals) need to “develop productivity rituals,” completing “highly specific behaviors . . . at precise times” so that they become “automatic.” But I can’t think of a name for the habit or productivity ritual that would entail systematically breaking certain habits or rituals that prevent us from moving out of our comfortable rhythms, away from our comfortable ways of working — especially when these rhythms and ways of working are producing work that is passable or even good.
Or maybe the solution to the problem can be found in the language we use to describe it . . . that is, we have to routinely and deliberately go to war with the passable and the good. How? By scheduling unscheduled, unscripted time to be around people we don’t know, people who approach us in unpredictable ways. Or we have to meet our own colleagues in different contexts; we have to move beyond our work-conditioned responses to questions and conundrums and people and problems. Case in point: I finally got started with Edmodo because I went to a conference, decided to go to one of the keynotes, and heard Richard E. Miller say that teachers must “model for students what it means to focus online.” He feels, like most of us, that too many students misuse the public and so-called private spaces of the Web. As such, he encourages us, the adults or lead learners, to get into the “muck” and live there responsibly, showing students how they might do the same. He convinced me on the spot — helping me to overcome my Edmodo inertia.
When I got back to school, I wanted to do something different; I wanted to show students that we might use short bursts of digital writing in a different way than they sometimes do when they communicate via text or twitter or DM or wall post. The energy I took back from the conference helped me to jump the track of my habits. Now my English classes use Edmodo to focus, to share their best and most precious insights, and to express membership in a learning community. Getting there was worth two minutes (and two years).
[EDITORS NOTE: Originally posted on Refreshing Wednesday]