In praise of ye ol’ lecture

I’ve never been to London. So when I decided to go to an Online Learning Conference in England to learn all I could learn internationally for our 2051 Project, I did what I rarely do when I travel – I added a day to be a tourist.

Those who know me know that I am directionally challenged. So the trip into London by train alone was daunting. Meanwhile, I was overwhelmed just thinking about a day in the city with so much anxiety over what to see and do. But my journey turned out to be remarkably uneventful, and it was a sunny day, so I was in a great mood to start my day of exploration. I took the good advice of many, headed to Trafalgar Square, and bought a ticket for a bus tour.

Now I am a big believer in engagement in learning. I get anxious when I see student desks lined up in rows and imagine hours spent passively listening to teachers. I believe that learning should be personalized and designed to suit each person’s capacity and passion. And I love to explore and walk. So I was amused that I was going to embark on an afternoon on a bus, sitting and listening. I had this idea that I would get out and explore the amazing sites along my route then hop back on. The bus tour was only a means to the real end – my great adventure in London would be highly interactive and active.

I was wrong. Yes, the sites were unbelievable, and I was excited to actually see Big Ben, St Paul’s, the Tower of London, and of course, Buckingham Palace. But I spent over three hours seated. I never got off the bus – not once! – even though it was a sunny day in London and I was a bit chilled just sitting there. I chose to stay seated because I was mesmerized by my tour guide.

Before we even left Trafalgar Square, he told us about the lions, the most photographed animal statues in the world. Sure enough, there were people on, beside and around them posing for cameras (and iPhones). But as we drove closer, he told us to look carefully at how their scrawny legs and paws didn’t quite match their massive beastly bodies. (I include a photo below as proof!) He told us that the sculptor wasn’t a sculptor, he was a painter; and furthermore the sculptor had never seen a lion before he was commissioned to make the lions, so he was given a real but dead lion to copy. Problem was, by the time he got to the legs and paws, the poor lion’s body was decomposing.

Every time we approached or left a site, my tour guide told a story that was funny or quirky or just plain interesting, so I just stayed put. The time flew by, and even though we were stuck in traffic a couple of times, and in some very uninteresting places, he was so entertaining that I just sat back and listened and laughed.

The same thing happened at the International Symposium on Online Learning at Eton College. I was overwhelmed by all that is happening in the world of blended learning, and I don’t mean what is “blingy” and hot, I mean pedagogy, research-based, learner-centred, thoughtful work. But I was also reminded that a good speaker, whether it be someone who is well-prepared, smart and doing interesting work, or someone who is naturally funny, witty, and entertaining, is worth our time. My hope is that the best schools are simultaneously engaged in cutting edge work that uses technology to accelerate learning, but they also continue to celebrate great teachers who tell a great story.

p.s. Shout outs to some of the great speakers at the conference who are doing great work: Peter Warsaw, Academic Dean at Deerfield; Brad Rathgeber, Founder of the Online School for Girls; Heather Staker, co-author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools; Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School at Cary Academy, Michael Nachbar, Founding Director of Global Online Academy; Marjo Talbott, Head of the Maret School and founder of the Malone School Online Network; and Sarah Hofstra, Director of Hybrid Learning Consortium.

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