“I make, therefore I learn”

Earlier this year I worked with Sue Beckingham and Chrissi Nerantzi (and others) on the BYOD4L (Bring Your Own Device for/4 Learning) short course. From this exposure to social learning  and from the shared experience in helping Sue and Chrissi run the course I was privileged to be invited  to work with them again. This time on a special edition of the online Lifewide Magazine – Issue 10 (June 2014): ‘Lifewide Learning in a World of Personal Technologies and Social Media’.

Looking back over the work on BYOD4L, my recent changes in circumstances, and my approach to the role I’m in, I was asked to write about something about the challenges of being creative (or not) in a role that doesn’t always require creative working or operation.

  • Due to the reflective nature of the post, that I am thinking and working towards being a better ‘learning technologist’, this forms the 13th part to my series of ‘what is a Learning Technologist?’

Here is my article, also available on the Lifewide Magazine website and associated PDF download (page 34):

“I make, therefore I learn”, by David Hopkins

As a Learning Technologist I tend to make or create things. Everyday I write emails, attend meetings, take notes, support staff, advise colleagues, demonstrate systems, deliver workshops, etc. .. and that’s the ‘required’ stuff that an employer would see as my role. But alongside this I make and ‘create’ far more than this: I create solutions, sort problems (even create problems that are worth sorting), collaborate with colleagues, write reports, summarise articles, manipulate images, test software, demonstrate techniques, etc. Whilst the official terminology used for my roles like mine may not look like it needs a creative person (in the traditional sense of what a ‘creative’ person is), I need to be considerably flexible on what I do, how I do it, when I do it, why I do it, and for whom.

Being creative is not a requirement to being a Learning Technologist but, for me, it has been essential to me becoming the Learning Technologist that I am. But through the creation and exploration of my role, of the environment I find myself working in, and through the connections I have made, I find myself trying more things, questioning more, being more creative, learning about my environment, and learning more about myself. I have learned to push myself and the boundaries I find myself bumping into. I have learned how to use these boundaries to my advantage. I have learned to be more creative and how to make more of this creativity to help and support others.

For me this is why I ‘make’. Therefore this is how, and why, I learn. My biggest ‘Ah ha!’ moment recently has been the discovery of Sketchnotes. Using graphics, drawing, and colour to capture the theme of an event rather than the details I have found something to rival my use of Twitter in meeting and at events.

I reviewed a book called The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde on my blog earlier this year  where I covered the new approach to notetaking, and the difference it is making to my work, my retention of information, and concentration & effectiveness at events. In May I attended the Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference in Dublin and, for the first time, I did not tweet everything I heard. In fact I barely tweeted at all, instead using simple pen and paper and producing sketchnotes of the keynotes and sessions I attended.

Here is an example a sketchnote of Prof Stephen Heppell’s keynote.  The key is not the quality of drawing or artistic impression (for I do not claim to be any good at either) but the ability to capture the ideas and concept of the presenter in a graphical way … as Mike Rohde says in his book, a Sketchnote dog is still a dog no matter how well or badly it has been drawn.

Prof Stephen Heppell #BbTLC2014

I do not claim that sketchnotes will be for everyone, as I’m sure they won’t. I have had some amazing conversations with colleagues and peers on the concepts: some love it, some don’t. What it has done is what I believe I should be doing in my role as Learning Technologist … starting the conversation, testing the water, developing a style, and making sure we don’t get lazy and never try something new.

As I said when I started: “I make, therefore I learn”.

Combining Media
I didn’t have to use paper and pen for the sketchnotes, I could have used any one of the many Apps for my iPad for drawing or notetaking. So why did I, a self-confessed digital native (trying not to use that contentious phrase but realised that nothing else would really do) go back to basics and paper and pen? Firstly, it was only an experiment so I used the one thing I had to hand when I started reading Mike Rohde’s book, paper and pen. Secondly it has been extremely satisfying creating something like these sketchnotes that I can’t quickly edit or erase – it has helped focus the mind on getting it right the first time.

Then came the question of “how do I share these?” My first sketchnotes from the Blackboard conference were loaded to my blog and shared as part of the post outlining my thoughts and experiences from the conference. This has limitations as I quickly realised I would only have a limited audience for my work. I could have just shared the photo of the sketchnotes on Twitter, as I have seen others do with their notes, but I would have no ‘control’ over where the images went, nor would I be able to see how many views they got – I am not interested in restricting access to the images, but I wanted some way of knowing/seeing how far they travel and what kind of interest they get.

As I already had a Flickr account (and barely used it), and had seen how my peers and respected colleagues were sharing their work through this network, I decided to add Flickr to the experiment. Loading a photo of each sketchnote to Flickr was easy enough using the Flickr iPad App and I then collected them together in an album (above) to make one easy-to-share link I could use on my blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. I toyed with the idea of using Instagram  (which am I always using) but knew it wouldn’t offer me the collection/album tool for collecting them together for easy sharing.

I am still familiarising myself with the subtleties of Flickr and the way in which it works, not least the tagging and meta-data associated with each photo or album, and trying to get more individual views to the sketches. This is not a mainstream subject/topic, so the views won’t be in the hundred (I would have thought) but I am slowly understanding the value of the network.