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A Little Learning is …

March 15, 2009

a dang’rous thing”, at least according to Alexander Pope. He declared that we should “Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring.” I, however, think a little learning is a wondrous thing; it can addict you to drinking deep at the Pierian Spring, that is, at wanting to know more and how to do more.

This post is part of a carnival of blog posts hosted at Dave’s Whiteboard. To drink deep at this particular Pierian Spring, check out http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/archives/1724.

Daves Whiteboard / Carnival

Dave's Whiteboard / Carnival

Little Learnings – a Bit at a Time, as Needed

I came to the digital world initially with fear and reluctance at a time when those who knew how the technology worked were seen as the digital specialists. People with a communication background who were enthralled by the communication possibilities offered by the digital world (as I came to be) were invisible to those looking for web expertise. When I was told that part of my writing course would include introducing my students to MSWord, back in the 1990s, I began to look around my college for help because I realized that I couldn’t ask my husband, as I did at home, to come into my classroom (a computer lab) and open and set up the program for me. Besides, he preferred Word Perfect.

So when my college offered half day courses in various computer aspects, I signed up. I took many of the courses, (Word I, II, & III, Web Browser I, II, III, & IV) many times. (My working memory has always been a bit wonky; I need a lot of repetition and/but I get bored easily. Bit of a problem sometimes;->)

I bought books on MSWord and tried to sort out what would be useful for my students. I couldn’t figure out how to figure out stuff in the books. What the @#$%, for example, was this thing that had “Normal” written in it? And why would anyone want to use a “View” called “Outline”? Meanwhile, in my writing classroom where I was ?teaching? students how to use Word for their essays, something interesting was happening. Some of my students were telling their friends, and sometimes even me, some things that could be done using Word. One taught me about Styles and Tables of Content. Wa-HOOOO! (Sometimes translated as “eureka”!)

2009 Version of MS Words Styles

2009 Version of MS Word's Styles

While I didn’t totally depend on the kindnesses of students, I was encouraging social learning in my classrooms, not just because it was a trendy pedagogical approach, but because it helped me where I worked! I was learning from my students that the trendy pedagogical approach of group work was highly effective for teaching writing and computer use, and that it was highly effective for my own learning. They learned how to use a word-processor to make their own writing easier to revise and edit; I learned various aspects of word-processing that I was responsible for teaching, and that I could also use in my own writing tasks.

I was shanghaied onto a PD committee to introduce other professors to the web and other things digital. I knew that I didn’t know enough to be on it, but I was crafty enough to know there would be people on it I could learn from. I attended religiously. There was a woman my age, (shall we say “mature”) who taught humanities subjects and was not a computer programmer or technician, but knew so much about the web’s technical aspects! She had her own website hosted on our college’s server. I was filled with admiration for the way she dressed, and for her knowledge and ability in the digital world. I decided (unconsciously) to take her as my role model. After all, she wasn’t young, male, or a computer programmer, so maybe I could learn more digital stuff and be more like her.

When I tried to learn more, for example HTML code, so I could have my very own website, (hosted on my college’s sever) I was frustrated. I heard about “WYSIWYG” software for creating websites and I was intrigued. A little learning (people can put up websites without learning HTML code because there’s software that lets you do it based on how it looks!) made me hungry to learn how to do this thing that was easier than learning HTML code. (Although I had memorized <b>bold</b> and its companion <i>italics</i>.)

I took weekend courses in this WYSIWYG software, where we followed detailed instructions so we all could produce identical web sites, presumably based on the learning theory that if we followed instructions once, we would know how to use the software. (Did I mention my wonky working memory?) I learned enough to go out searching for easier WYSIWYG software and found Netscapes’s Composer. I was thrilled and excited; I could figure out (with the help of a website put up by a female professor whose name is lost in the mists of my memory) how to put together a web site, and I did, individual link by individual link.

My First Website, made with Netscapes Composer

My First Website, made with Netscapes Composer

A little

  • employment-forced,
  • employment-aided, and
  • social

learning had moved me along, and also taught me how much more there was to learn, and started a dangerous ;-> addiction.

(A young writer I coach likes to say, in square brackets, at points in her novel draft, “much happens here”.)

[MUCH HAPPENS HERE]

So my awareness of

  • how much I am a social learner and
  • how manuals and books only work for me after I already know something and
  • how important the web is to human communication (more than the printing press, even!)

has led me to

  • blog and
  • join Facebook and
  • Twitter.

Through blogging and Bloglines I have encountered some people repeatedly, most of whom I’ve never met f2f, but I feel like I know them. Some of them have commented on some of my blog posts and/or “friended” me on Facebook and occasional messages between us – usually connected with education and the web – have made them feel like colleagues – and I need colleagues now that I teach only part-time, and yet still hunger for fellow learners in this rapidly changing communications world. Many of these colleagues I follow on Twitter, and recognize their icons.

Ah Twitter, that time-sink and/or valuable resource, that place for sharing treasures, over-sharing quotidian detritus, and just plain bitching complaining!

So I was again searching for the perfect WordPress template for my edublog (this one) and I found it, except that the body was in serif font! I can’t stand serif font, except on paper, and even there, not so much. I NEED Lucida Grande, or at least some kind of sans serif. (Good audience-aware web design, IMHO, requires sans serif on screens because it’s easier on our eyes.) I poked around and figured out that for U.S. $15.00, I could get an upgrade that would allow me to alter the CSS. (Did I mention how little I know about HTML? Even more about CSS.) I had poked around on Google and found out the definition of CSS and it sounded … interesting. So I used PayPal and got the upgrade. But I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. I tried. I searched and found out more. I even read the FAQs and tutorials. For a break, I opened my TweetDeck and  … complained.

I got a direct message from one of my web colleagues inviting a phone call, called, talked for a long time with both of us looking at both our blogs’ backends (really – not a rude thing at all;->). Eventually, after much help from the phone call  and another book (WordPress for Dummies) I got the sans serif font I wanted in the body of my blog – as you can see!

When I boasted in a later Tweet, I got the kind of feedback I most value –

Feedback on Using CSS to Change My Font

Feedback on Using CSS to Change My Font

Thanks so much Dave!

And when I later got a request for a post for Dave’s Carnival –

Daves Carnival

Dave's Carnival

I was delighted for this inspiration, this opportunity to look at the cascading impact of each bit of little learning, and the generosity of digital colleagues!

So, what’s my point? My point is that real tasks and social colleagues, whether coffee line-up or digitally based, move a little learning into into a deep enough draught at the Pierian Spring, so that we

behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!

The more we learn, the more we see there is yet more to learn, one small real task and consequent social encounter at a time.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2009 2:59 pm

    One slight correction, Joan: I don’t think of it as my carnival; only one of the contributions is mine. I’m not even the ringmaster. I try to invite people to participate, and try to find different hosts.

    It’s very surprising to me how many of this edition’s posts touched on issues related to passion and to personal learning. That wasn’t planned; it’s just how people chose to write.

    Your CSS example is a classic for self-chosen learning: you had a problem you wanted to solve, you reached out in various ways to find an answer, and having accomplished what you wanted, you’re all the more ready for the next challenge.

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