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First Week Into the EVO Workshop

January 18th, 2009 by Cristina Costa

This first week has just been amazing.  We have had a great time connecting in our EVO Workshop.
It started with a very simple, yet quite intriguing ice-breaker activity Nellie Deutsch came up  with. It consisted on asking participants to connect to ours and discover what their birth order inside their family was. No instructions on how to do this were provided. After all it’s their learning and we wanted them to explore their creative side their own way. And boy, did they do it! After a couple of hours the activity in the ning was running at full speed. People created surveys, developed online forms, twittered about it, send private messages to their ning friends, used videos and their blogs… everything to answer to challenge #1!  What a blast!!! We were also learning with one another’s’ reactions and consequently trying out the toys that were being used during that first half of the week. There is nothing like learning in context. It’s not about learning the dry commands of a tool, but rather using something that might help you find your way inside your learning path. I am a true believer that contextualized learning is the way forward. If we create the conditions for a friendly, cosy environment, the interactive atmosphere grows much more meaningful, and from that context relevant content usually arises. The support of all those involved is the best information resources one can get to support his/her learning.
Five years ago I took a course at the University of Coimbra. At the time these tools were not available, but the course leaders were providing their own tool, which was a virtual space they shared with the rest of the members of the course. To our surprise not even one resource, one artifact was available there for us. ‘Man , they are not making this easy’ I thought at the time… and in fact that was not their purpose. If we were to inhabit a ‘part’ of that environment, it was up to us to decorate in our own taste and manner,  with our learning activity. And if the place were also for communal gathering, then it was up to us as a group to define and create the spaces we thought to benefit out joint online existence. Their point was to make that a totally constructivist approach. So we constructed. We were to work to be a the community and reach our goals. We were to make it as much a personal experience as well as a joint learning enterprise. And the fact is that we did, even though we did not even pay much attention to it at the time. We set up our personal space, decorating it as well as we could or wanted with resources, blog post, while contributing to the development of the communal spaces with groups discussions, group work, resources and also with a space dedicated to pure chatter – because we all are interested in more things than the disciplines that characterize our professional activity.
Somehow, this week reminded me of that experienced. This workshop seems to symbolize  what Bee Dieu wrote in the title of her former blog: Freedom to roam. How important is that in the learning context?
I have always enjoyed freedom and loved to be able to add something personal to the way I represent my learning. Creative freedom makes the journey to knowledge much more pleasant and enjoyable. I think we learn better when our heart is it it. At least, I am like that. I find it hard to follow someone who is incapable  of showing enthusiasm for what they do. I find it also difficult to get interested in dry information. I do enjoy my lonely moments of reflection – when I try to seek quiet, deep personalized understanding of the latest experiences and content, but what really triggers my activity as a learners is the people that surround me and which whom I develop joint conclusions.  That is why many times I end up publishing my personal reflections in my blog, as a way of sharing this more closed part of me with others. That is also a way of refining my thoughts. I think my blog is my Digifolio – the place where I condense the ideas and thoughts I acquire and develop from all the other places I so eagerly belong and contribute to. Consequently that sharing also helps define who I am and withwhom/ how I learn. It also helps the building of my professional ID as a Digital Learner…

Ok, and here the stories start. I believe in the power of telling stories.Story telling is an important aspect in our daily life. We learn with one another – there is no doubt about that – and we especially learn with the stories the others have to tell. Listening to is a very important activity in one’s learning. Somehow in online spaces this is more achievable than in face to face scenarios. Maybe because off-line we are always short for time; online it takes time! This is the only way we are able to present ourselves to the others and show evidence that we are ‘listening to’ what they say, also with the expectation they will also pay attention to our contributions. Then there is also the impact of the written word which is amazingly powerful in establishing learning connections. Through words we express ourselves better, we are able to go deeper in our beliefs and feelings – it allows us to open up more without being exposed to the naked eye of our interlocutor. In short, the process of expressing ourselves in words often concedes us the time to mature our message in a cohesive speech as well as to deepen our learning bonds …
For some reason books still haven’t disappeared, some of the best (love) stories began in epistolary format and blogs have increased the popularity of writing the the last decade or more.  The web as it stands today also enables us to develop stories in many other formats. What is important is that we don’t keep the narrative inclosed ourselves. After all, a good story is always worth telling. And who doesn’t like a good one?
The second half of the week when we started telling our own stories … sharing a bit more of ourselves. Once again creativity was welcome and the originality of people’s story formats as well and the genuineness of their narratives was just amazing.
I am not sure of what the others think, as I can only speak for myself, but I have learned a lot this week and been having a lot of fun talking to people and exploring the different spots that have created inside the ning.

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