Thursday, July 24, 2014

Google Slides & Who I Am as a Learner / Facilitator of Learning

I started writing this "quick little" thought (HA! Have ya' MET me?) on G+ but it turned into something lengthier and perhaps more fitting for this space, so here it is. In my ever challenging effort to blog more and worry less about formatting & perfection I am just dumping this thinking so I can process out loud for a minute. You've been warned...

Background: I have been collaborating via Slides with some of my favorite colleagues for an event we are hosting tomorrow to help any central office district folk who wish to learn more about Google Drive and the guidelines we have begun crafting. Normally I use Docs for all my adult learning facilitations, but since this was a group effort someone began the presentations and a few crazy-talented co-workers jumped in full force and built some beautiful slides. Now I fairly regularly used, and enjoyed, Slides for my 4th and 5th graders, but the more I work on them the more I recognize not just that Slides are not my happy place, but the reason that may be.

Why I think Slides don't always meet my needs as a learner or facilitator of learning. 

  1. I am a perfectionist, incredibly visual, and my skillset is not that of a graphic designer. This means I spend an inordinate amount of time moving text & images from place to place trying to make it look nice. I know when it looks bad, but I can't see exactly what to do to fix it without messing about for a long while, and even then it might still look mediocre at best.
  2. I am a content-driven person. I love all the resources, information, ideas, and incredibly transparent learning and facilitating I can get my hands, err..brain, on (i.e. don't just say /share something, explain your thought process so I can learn from that, too). This is great and all, until I am asked to put all of that thinking & learning onto a simplified, beautified slide. Ermahgerd!
  3. I am all about self-driven and asynchronous learning and anything I create/share/teach needs to be able to hold its own outside of that hour or day when it was used in a lesson or facilitation. That means anyone should be able to look at the things I create and get something from them, learn from them, and ideally transfer that learning to others if they so choose. The premise of Slides, and similar tools, is to help a speaker give a presentation. That's great, if that is your purpose. But rarely do I ever teach in this way. I don't want to be the speaker, the keeper of the knowledge, or to present learning to others. I want to engage people in conversation, answer questions, facilitate their understanding and exploration of new information, and ultimately transfer ownership of the learning (both content and process) to the learner so they can apply and share it long after I am gone. (That doesn't mean presentations don't have their time and place, but I rarely find myself in a 30-60 min keynote kind of situation, and even then I want the audience to have something to take with them, that can be shared with people who couldn't attend, and that people can connect to during and after the talk. Hmm, actually I think I am just trying to be polite and PC here.. I would be hard pressed to find a situation where, as the learner or speaker, it would not be helpful to someone to have access to the information being shared. That just seems like good practice.)
  4. As a learner I want to engage in the content being shared so I can connect to it personally and apply it to my own needs. It drives me crazy to not have access to presentation materials so I can click on links, add notes/thinking/resources, and discuss with the others in the room through a backchannel. I don't want to spend time getting distracted Googling a resource or website when I could click on it and move on, and I certainly never want my attendees to do so, either. When I sit down and realize there is no way for me to access the materials being projected or discussed I have a very strong, very visceral reaction. I think this is something fairly recent, and probably stems from being spoiled in certain circles where people operate this way by default. I remember a year ago sitting down to hour 1 of the week-long preservice PD at my school and realizing there was no way to get the PPT, Word, and Excel docs being used. I vividly recall the feeling I had as I internally flipped my shit. *How am I supposed to manipulate this data for my own needs?!* *What if I want to take notes ON the presentation materials?!* *How can I provide my 2 cents on this stuff and share resources I have and hear what others are thinking and OH MY GOD NOBODY WANTS OUR INPUT OR CARES WTF WE ARE THINKING!!!!* Yeah, it seems dramatic...but it happened. I wanted to be part of a conversation, a valued member of the community we should have been building, not a receiver of information that 1-5 people deemed best for us. Learning should ALWAYS be reciprocal.
  5. My previous rant segues into the next point: I am most fulfilled and engaged in learning when I can give back to others. When I am not positioned to help people or to give something to others I am often very unhappy. I learn so much through the process of sharing my thinking, helping answer someone's question, providing a resource I have found helpful, or just telling people I am available as a thought-partner should they choose. When people are looking for help, even if that help takes the form of listening to them process, I am learning. Everything someone else says is a chance for me to hear a new perspective, to figure out where I stand and what I think, and to identify areas of growth or interest I want to pursue. Thus if I have a space to backchannel, hear what other people are thinking or wondering, and to answer questions people have during a session or presentation I am a happy camper who is learning a ton. 

So, when these things are met I can almost guarantee I am a happy camper who is learning a whole lot, and I try to ensure my sessions meet these needs for any learners in the room who feel similarly. Does everyone feel this way or learn this way? Nope, and that is awesome! I try to meet their needs, too, and to get feedback about how I can make the experience positive for everyone in the room. 

TL;DR: Slides are awesome, if they are meeting your specific purpose, but I prefer other tools as a learner and facilitator and now I better understand why that is.