The saying “it’s as easy as riding a bike” really got me thinking!
What are the things I do in open digital spaces that just come naturally? Now that I’ve done them so many times, worked through the issues and challenges of learning how to do them, what mindsets do I take for granted? How do I figure out how to do things digitally? Why is being ‘open’ my default mode or why can I keep trying things out, digitally speaking – like riding a bike?
I may not always consider the difficulties others face when trying digital and technology tasks for the first time. For me, learning how to ride a bike didn’t happen until well into my teens. It wasn’t easy on an old hand-me-down bike since I lived on a road that, with a gravel base, was not great for stability. But once I mastered riding, I now enjoy biking since it comes easily to me. What essential bike riding habits and mindsets do I take for granted in my current, smoothly-paved-pathway environments?
These thoughts link to my teaching practices. Last night, in the final class for the semester, we watched this Backward Bike video.
I encouraged my students to talk about all the ‘backward bike moments’ they’ve faced during this course. It was intended to be a reflective activity for them, but it became more so for me. As an instructor of digital teaching and learning, I take for granted the skills and mindsets I bring to the learning. I’m working from a solid foundation of experience with digital technologies.
My ‘backward bike riding’ moments, when using digital technologies for teaching and learning, are not the same as my students. I’ve developed a set of skills to deal with ‘backward bikes’. I’m supported by a whole network of helping hands, ready to reach out when I’m wobbly or catch me when I fall. There are individuals in communities that encourage me, talk me back onto that bike and cheer when I get things going the right way. My students are getting on that bike, many for the first time and there are challenges and frustrations they face that I need to understand and find ways to support.
Teaching and learning in open digital spaces is full of ‘backward bike’ moments. It takes a persistent and dedicated effort to master that bike. Whether it takes you two weeks or eight months, you have to keep getting on that bike in order to get it to work. It’s not going to feel comfortable until the switch in thinking happens. Even then, it’s not going to be easy. Having a connected, collaborative, supportive and open network helps you get through the challenges of ‘riding’ that digital teaching and learning ‘backward bike’.
This brings me to why and how this backward bike thing really hit home for me. I’ll thank Donna Miller Fry for the provocation.
- Donna shared some thoughts about Open Education Leadership on her blog, which I read and listened to with interest.
- Julie Balen commented and extended an invitation to an annotation of Donna’s blog post using Hypothes.is, where I added a few annotations.
- The blog content linked to the TIDE podcast #61 – Open to Suggestion, which I listened to for the second time.
- This took me back into a Slack channel conversation and then forward to participate in a conversation for a new TIDE podcast created using the Anchor app, which I downloaded and tinkered with until I got it working.
- The result is TIDE podcast #71 – Slacking Off Part 2, a fireside chat about landing pages, BYOD and making tech decisions within schools, which I then shared out on Twitter.
Some may read this, stop in their tracks and declare ‘that backward bike looks scary’. Others may be intrigued by the way these backward bike bits fit together and want to give it a try. For me, this flow through digital pathways is as easy as riding a bike. I instinctively know where the pedals are, how to turn the handle, when to brake (break), how to slow down for bumps, and how to pick myself up when I fall sideways. This was a fairly smooth ride through open digital terrain even though I’m still new to Hypothes.is and I’ve never used Anchor.fm before. Having others watch, learn, judge, critique or just enjoy seeing my open, digital ‘backward-bike’ experience is part of the joy of riding.
So, back to the reflection my students are doing as part of their digital teaching and learning. I’ve asked them to write a final blog post about the Five Things they Know For Sure. I’ll use this same framework here. For any of my students who may be interested, here are the five things I know for sure. I’m using the experience of backward bike riding as a metaphor for teaching and learning in open digital spaces.
- You may not see much of a difference in what it does or how it works, but teaching and learning with open digital technologies CHANGES EVERYTHING. Just as the backward bike exposes ingrained and rigid ways of thinking, so too will working openly with digital technologies change your knowledge and understanding. Once your default mode is OPEN and DIGITAL, there’s no going back to the ‘old’ ways of doing things.
- You WILL fail and fall OFTEN. It’s part of the experience. You will need patience with yourself, with other backward bike riders, and with the bike (although you’ll be tempted to chuck it into the ditch on occasion)! Be persistent, keep getting on and keep trying. One day, it’ll feel natural and it won’t be so hard.
- You can’t do it alone, but you need to do it yourself. You’ll need helping hands to steady your wobbly moments. You’ll need supportive friends to pick you up when you fall off. But in the end, YOU need to ride that bike – your friends or colleagues can’t do it for you.
- Knowledge DOES NOT equal understanding. Proficiency and fluency does not mean you know how to apply digital technologies to teaching and learning. Once you master the bike, it’s a whole other thing to try teaching someone else to use their bike. You may be fluent using Twitter but linking it to your teaching and classroom collaborations may not logically follow. Your knowledge about digital tools and technologies will help, but understanding comes through application, experience and reflective practice in the classroom.
- Don’t avoid learning – it’s worth the frustrations. Once you do learn to ride that backward bike, there are choices and opportunities open to you! It’s worth the effort! Just like in Amsterdam, where bikes rule the roadways, digital technologies are everywhere in today’s teaching and learning landscapes. You may think you can do without and teach without having to learn how to use digital technologies. Some think it’s just another novelty, another new phase that will pass. But you’ll quickly realize that bike riding is the only way to get around. It doesn’t mean you need to ride all the time or even in the same direction others are going. Once you’ve learned how to use digital technologies in open learning spaces, there are choices and opportunities that weren’t there before. There are paths open to you that wouldn’t have been seen or experienced. There are people and places where your voice can be shared and heard. Don’t avoid that new digital technology – take a ride with it and share your experiences along the way.
In the end, it’s about trying.
Whether you find it easy or hard, with persistence and practice, you can rewire the pathways in your brain to work comfortably and confidently with open digital tools and resources. For my students, who may read this post, I’m hoping you enjoy the ride! It may not be as easy as riding a bike, but it is well worth the efforts!
Image credit – CC BY HJ.DeWaard using Canva, Morguefile image of bike