Future as a Learner

What’s Your Rushmore?

Duane B. Karlin

Mr. Blume: What’s the secret, Max?
Max: The secret?
Mr. Blume: Yeah.  Well, you seem to have it pretty figured out. 
Max: The secret.  I don’t know.  Uh—I think you just gotta find something you love to do, and then do it for the rest of your life.

In this scene from the 1998 film “Rushmore,” Max, played by Jason Schwartzman, declares that attending a private preparatory school, Rushmore, is what he loves and wants to do for the rest of his life.  Being an active, lifelong learner is my Rushmore.

It all began on a September morning over three decades ago.  A morning of firsts: introductions, impressions, expectations.  I entered through the orange colored door with a large capital “K” printed on a piece of off-white butcher paper.  As I walked into my Kindergarten class with at least twenty of my peers, I was unaware of the journey upon which I was about to embark.  With these first steps of formal education, I officially became a lifelong learner.  This adventure has been an intricate part of my life, enabling me to participate as a student, lead as a teacher, and understand the symbiotic balance between the two.

As I complete this final course for my master’s degree in educational technology, I can better assess what it means to be a lifelong learner.  Learning has not simply been a hobby to pass the time, but a devoted part of my life.  I have spent over 87% of my life in a classroom environment either as a student or as a teacher.  I love learning new things and teaching students new ideas that they may take with them on their own lifelong learning journeys.  This may be my final class toward earning my degree, but I will continue to seek out new learning opportunities for the rest of my life.

I plan to continue growing and learning in the future by being an active member of the technology community-at-large.  Through reading blogs, discovering and listening to thought-provoking podcasts, contributing to wikis and forum discussions, and seeking out the latest developments in technology, this will enable me to stay current as an advocate for teaching and learning with technology.  These methods of self-education will allow me to choose my educational direction and work with tested and new tools to incorporate into my life.

As a more formal method of continuing my education, by extending my studies though university classes, workshops, conferences, and technology-based activities, I will participate with other individuals who share my passion for nurturing the availability of this new world of information and online tools.  One of the greatest lessons I learned through my studies has been that learning is a collaborative exercise.  Yes, we can (and do!) learn independently, but if we can voice our thoughts with other individuals, interested in similar materials, then new learning connections are possible.  By opening our minds to the outside influences of our colleagues and learning peers, our learning experiences will only be further and more deeply enriched.

Yet with learning about these new tools and integrating them into my learning and teaching comes the responsibility of understanding their purpose and discerning their value.  Simply because a tool is new and available, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has educational merit.  As teachers mentoring our students toward being technologically literate and understanding how to effectively use either Web 2.0 tools or social media platforms in their educational pursuits, we need to accurately demonstrate what constitutes a quality product that will enhance learning.  While the initial launch of a product or being an early adopter are often exciting endeavors, we need to gauge the potential benefits of these technologies and decide if they will work for us or if they are just a shiny packaged distraction.

In a relatively short time span, we have become a continuously connected society.  Cell phones, smart phones, and other mobile devices allow us to stay in constant contact with our family, friends, followers, and anyone else we place in our rapidly expanding circles.  As we witness this evolution of change, I need to evaluate how I, as a lifelong learner, fit into this scheme.

While I support both traditional and online learning, I do not see the need for this perpetual connection where I share every minute detail of my life.  Even as this information base is virtually exploding, individuals need to be educated to differentiate between imperative and frivolous.  I am not condemning this tidal wave of information, but as an educated professional and lifelong learner, I want to convey the importance of embracing technology to assist us in our 21st century learning processes.

By earning my master’s degree in educational technology, it is an end point, but it is also the beginning.  I am eager to integrate the new skills I have acquired into my work and learn what students already know and relationally understand.  I want my teaching to reflect the nature of Web 2.0 technologies and design so that I can create compelling and reflecting learning experiences that will interest students while challenging them.  This will enable me to continually evaluate my teaching in terms of what works and what doesn’t.

With the ubiquitous phrase, “There’s an app for that,” I know that there is great potential in developing educational applications for both students and teachers.  In this respect, I would like to learn about code and coding so that I may delve further into the technical aspects of computers and therefore share my knowledge through other means.  As for learning this new skill, Codeacademy.com has a great (free!) program where users can learn as much as they’d like to about code and work through lessons at their own pace.  This approach will enable me to decide if I would like to pursue a deeper learning of code or if I would rather it be more of a hobby.

Regardless of which path I take, I know how important technology is to learning and how it will continue to shape content and, with educated professionals, provide meaningful learning experiences.  Therefore, I can fully attest to the value of an online learning experience.  Already we are witnessing a change in public education, as schools are requiring that graduates complete at least one online course.  This is a valuable skill because it emphasizes how we can accomplish and share our work using technology.  Students who tend to avoid group discussions can freely contribute to a forum because their words can have as much meaning as another students’.  Also, by having students participate in projects where they must collaborate with their peers via technology, they are learning valuable workplace skills of cooperation, negotiation, sharing workloads, and accountability.  For these reasons, I only see online learning gaining momentum in the years to come with outstanding results for everyone involved and committed to success.

Because of my own positive experiences in working exclusively online toward my degree, one perception that has changed is that I am able to appreciate the learning process of arriving at a final goal.  When completing projects, I had the opportunity to explore different technologies and gain a relational understanding of how they function.  This experience ultimately became more valuable than the final product because I needed to know and fully comprehend the necessary steps to arrive at this endpoint.  Simply finishing a task was not enough, but building a workable knowledge base and combining it together in a cohesive format allowed me to fully realize each component and witness how they functioned together.  This will greatly benefit how I teach now and in the future because I want my students to value the small steps and understand how each element works together to form the larger picture.  Knowing how to deconstruct a final project and remix it to form something else entirely new is a skill that has provided richer meaning in my education.  Instead of one item to share, I have a collection of small pieces that can be configured in countless ways and shared with a global audience.

Finally, as a lifelong learner, my aspirations are to continue seeking learning experiences that I can share with my colleagues and remix for my students.  As I stated earlier, I have spent most of my life either as a student or an educator.  Reflecting on the times when I was not actively pursuing learning opportunities, I lacked a personal level of fulfillment.  I crave the challenges associated with learning and cannot fathom my life without the benefit of education either through the traditional means of a classroom or the 21st century online approach.  I honestly believe that I have found what I love doing and I want to do it for the rest of my life.  Being an active, lifelong learner is my Rushmore.

What’s your Rushmore?