To Gel or Not to Gel

Some days I just want a really good gel pen and a brand, spanking-new journal notebook. Those are the days when I am tired of hearing about, talking about, and learning about technology. It can all be a bit overwhelming. I think some of the people that tweet and blog have some genetic predisposition to using technology. I do not. I have to work at it. And, for me, it is frustrating. It seems that things never actually behave the way I want them to. I will give you an example. I wanted to create the background to my Twitter profile. I read about it in a book. I tried to follow the directions and three hours later (on a Saturday mind you) I gave up. I paid $4.99 on my Mastercard to get it to behave. I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted to do it myself.

Okay, another story. So I decided it would be a good thing to follow some of the people in my district who were blogging. As a Director of Instruction, with technology in my portfolio, that seems important for me to do. And frankly, some of these people are posting great material (see Peter Johnston). Unfortunately, what happens is I often miss their new posts. In order to get these posts, I need to subscribe to their blog (if they have included that feature). I was finding it cumbersome to subscribe to blogs as it clutters up my mailbox, which is already protesting over too many emails (and, frankly, I like a clean email inbox, too). So I decided to learn about Google Reader. I put all the blog URLs into Google Reader so I could then create an RSS feed to my Flipboard on my ipad (I may not even be using those terms right in that last sentence!). Now, I love my Flipboard. It helps me manage the flow of information. And, at a quick glance, it allows me to get all the information I need, whether it is catching up on twitter or following blogs.

Of course, this is not the end of the story. I wanted to create a summary paper of all the recent posts that educational leaders in Surrey schools were creating. I felt it would encourage others and they might realize their colleagues are also posting good information. I have seen others do this through or summify.  This seemed like a reasonable goal. I googled the directions, watched a video, read some FAQ—all of which I found very time-consuming. In the end, I created a paper for the #sd36learn hashtag. That was not my goal but it gave me a chance to practice. I still haven’t created the summary paper of Surrey blogs but I am waiting to see if summify will fit the bill. Actually, I tried summify but it isn’t working as I hoped. The gracious people behind it responded to my tweet for help and gave me additional instructions. Unfortunately, it isn’t generating what I had envisioned.  I will have to find some other tool (another day, when I am not feeling so overwhelmed).

Which all brings me to a point. (You were beginning to wonder, I bet.) I am not the only one that finds it laborious to use technology. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is the most rewarding part of my job.  However, some of us are just challenged. Yes, technically challenged. And I guess that is why it is important for us to pay attention to the learning needs, styles and interests of our colleagues. It works best for me when someone actually shows me what to do (just in time, when I want and need to learn). Then I need them to watch me try to do it myself. I describe this as hand-over-hand (and, please, do not do it for me because if your hands are on the device, I am not learning). Then, they need to release me to do it on my own.  That works best for me.  And, personally, l would like them to check back with me later because my brain feels overstuffed and in between I actually sometimes forget how to do things.

We need to keep this in mind as we provide support to educators. They need to do it themselves, we need to provide the right tool for the their purpose, they need just-in-time training and we need to continue the gradual release of responsibility (with plenty of patience). Remember, those of you reading this post probably have a natural attraction towards technology. We need you to help those of us that don’t. And, finally, please be patient with our learning or we might just throw in the towel and return to our gel pens.

12 responses to “To Gel or Not to Gel

  1. Another great post Elisa. I am so enjoying reading your blog and your blog summaries. Yes, the new learning is challenging for all of us but look how far you have come! There is no going back. Why is learning all these new tools hard for us and so easy for our students? Stay the course and toss the gel pens.

  2. Elisa:

    ‘To Gel or Not to Gel” spoke directly to me!
    I made a resolution to use my iPad for meeting notes this year – thought I’d do away with all the pads of lined paper I have piled up on my desk as well as the black notebook I carry around with me. So I set-up headings under the ‘Notes’ icon over the Xmas Break and now when I have a meeting I turn on my iPad and start typing in my notes and to do’s.

    Sounds like it should work and it does for the most part but, I still gravitate to grabbing the ‘gel’ pen and lined paper pad. Now, after a few months I may find it becomes a habit to grab my iPad instead of my ‘Gel’ pen but then again it may be that, for each of us, technology will replace some of our prior practices but the old ‘Gel’ pen and lined paper may still have a place on my desk.

    This is a time of learning and experimenting – isn’t it great to be here while it’s all evolving.


  3. Technology is amazing. When it is working alongside you….it is fabulous. It is a tool that enables us to communicate, share and learn side by side. I will always have a pen and paper on my desk to allow me to think and create in a way that enables me to allow my ideas to evolve. The technology aids my thinking…… A tool ….not the only way. I hear what you are saying!

  4. Elisa,

    You have written about something that many “tech” peope do not understand. Becaue the technology comes easy and they see different uses for the tool, they sometimes do not understand that not everyone sees that way, including childfren. But there are many people who are like you. They use it and it has a place in their lives but it is not, as you describe, easy – they are “tech challenged” and this includes people of all ages. In our rush to embrace these tools and distance ourselves form the “pencil past” we sometime forget that not everyone is the same. Some people like pens/pencils/crayons/paintbrushes and not their ipad/smartphone as much. It does become easier, as was pointed out but we have to embrace all the different ways of doing things and not “poo poo” those who aren’t “gung ho” for the tech tools. Well written and well said.

  5. Elisa,
    I agree with those that have commented ahead of me this is a great post. I realize that learning technology isn’t easy for many. While I may pick up new tech things quickly, I still feel as though there so much more I wish I knew. Playing with the iPad I have discovered some flaws with it, so my trusty laptop and simple pen and paper notebook will always remain by my side. Perhaps that’s why I still have a phone that has cord attached to it in my home.

    Keep learning and keep inspiring Elisa. You are fantastic role models at both.


  6. Heather Stannard

    I enjoyed your post – I found it highlighted again the difference of generations that are most natural but highly exaggerated with the speed of technology’s advances. As tech coordinator, I am tech through and through in the job and through many daily tasks; but truth be told I live a double life. When I am really in the creative writing mood, there is nothing that replaces the feel of the soft pencil on good quality paper. When I want to savour a favourite author, nothing replaces the feel of the book in my hands even when I know I have 40+ titles on my iPad which weighs less than the one favoured novel. The feel and experience of engaging in what is natural in our learning is the key. However, for the youngsters of today, that same feel is found in the interaction of their fingers, voices and images in the technology that is innate to them. I can only image that we would have felt much like them in the classroom if we had been restricted to using chalk and slate versus pencil crayons, coloured pens and pencils, crayons, etc. But having taking on the challenging of becoming educators, we must learn the literacies of our students’ learning preferences in order to lead them to their tomorrow.

  7. Hi Elisa,

    Great blog! I could relate in so many ways…I have many of those moments!

    It was great meeting you on Friday, I always look forward to your great tweets 🙂


  8. Elisa,

    You wrote so eloquently about your thoughts and feelings. Reading your post made me feel as if you were writing about my current experiences. Although I am excited about all the new technology, apps, and uses, I am find myself becoming quite overwhelmed at times. Like you, I also need to see and do myself, otherwise my brain simply begins to tune out. I wish technology came as easily to me as it does to others but I guess we should be extremely proud of the efforts and gains we are making. Thanks for sharing so honestly and for continuing to inspire others in the same boat!


  9. Thank you for this post. I too am working very hard to constantly keep up with technology on my own time. The one thing I am finding most difficult is that my eyes are killing me all the time from looking at a screen all day. I find myself longing for simpler times and a nice journal book and pen.

  10. Elisa,
    It seems many agree with you. I have two points to add.

    1. Living, Learning and Teaching in Transformation is tiring and uncomfortable. I believe that new learning doesn’t occur unless we are a place of transformation. If we are not uncomfortable, we know it already and are not motivated to learn. Equally though we may learn every single day; we don’t need to be learning every moment of every day. Everything I know says if I want to learn French, I need to be immersed in French and not have English as an option. Certainly uncomfortable but I would learn the language better than being a ‘Language Tourist’ where I can step back to being comfortable.

    2. Digital is a language. Many of our students are Digital Natives and speak Digital fluently; however, just like our classrooms, not everyone comes to school with the skills to speak and learn with the language proficiently – even though it is the expected norm.

    With Marc Prensky’s work came the term Digital Immigrant and Digital Native. The concept was native speakers and second language learners. Research shows learning multiple languages is easiest before 6 years and dramatically difficult after 10 years old. If we remain as a Digital Tourist that can use the language for ‘excursions’ of learning but return ‘home’ and revert to our old language, then students lose the immersion experience and we actually make it harder for students to learn the language as they get older.

    Many students are bi-lingual with English and Digital; most teachers are too old to be Digital Native speakers. Rather than being a Digital Tourist, some teachers have chosen to immerse themselves in Digital. These teachers can become fluent in Digital and English. Ideally all teachers will be fluent in both languages, but the most impact would be for helping students be bi-lingual by the age of 10

  11. What a great conversation you have started here, Elisa. I love technology and the opportunities to learn something new. However, I too, often find that I take the long way around to learn something that someone else could have taught me in minutes. For example, last week, I decided that I wanted to create a slide show for my students. I started with 300 pictures, which I downloaded from my camera to my computer….How to get them onto my iPad? I downloaded the entire file to Dropbox. Quick and easy. Ah, I thought, I am brilliant with these new apps!

    Next, I needed to download the pictures from Dropbox into my iPhoto on my iPad. Should be able to do the entire file in one click, right? No way! I had to load each picture one at a time. Plus, the ones that I had already rotated on my computer had turned sideways, so had to be rotated all over again!

    Now, I want to put the pictures into iMovie. Should be able to transfer each one with one click, right? Nope, ONE AT A TIME! Hours of work to do something that should have taken a few minutes. But, I have now learned that there is a little adapter that I can use to transfer my pictures directly from my camera onto my iPad. I have ordered it and am waiting to have it delivered from Amazon. Hopefully it will make the process much easier.

    I also spent hours figuring out iMovie on the iPad. BUT, I did learn a lot from all of this trial and error. I am now feeling quite confident with iMovie on the iPad and have made arrangements to start working with one of my teachers in her classroom to use iMovie with her students. After this huge investment of time, I want to make sure to put my knowledge to good use!

  12. I was just thinking about contradictions.
    One of those, for me, is my love and enjoyment of technology as a networking, communication and efficiency tool and a concurrent love of beautiful paper journals and gel pens.

    And I’ve learned to respect them both. To recognize and value that I’m a highly tactile person. I love the feel of paper, of turning to a new page and allowing thoughts to flow onto the page like the brush strokes of a painter. It’s a deeply satisfying and even sensual experience.

    Putting pen to paper is also part of how I learn. I don’t like taking notes in a meeting on a computer. I find it distracts me. I’d rather take notes on paper – and once I’ve written something down, I rarely need to refer back to it. It’s now committed to memory – part of my understanding.

    Technology, on the other hand, is a tool. I write on my computer now. I gave in and use an electronic calendar. Twitter suits my communication style to a T and I get immense joy from my connections there!

    Perhaps technology comes easily to me now. But I still cherish my gel pens too. I even think that indulging my love of beautiful journals feeds the part of me that then ventures out into the discomfort of learning on the “edge”…

    I don’t want to choose. I want them both! 🙂

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