One of my goals in coming to the "States" was to visit MentorMob in Chicago and to meet the Team responsible for one of the great tools in educational technology, the "playlist." In fact, it is so great that MentorMob recently were voted one of the Chicago Innovation Awards winners for their work in the use of technology in education.
I had met Erin before my visit. We had skyped a few times and on one of those occasions, Kristin introduced herself. I had also met Vince, one of the co-founders of MentorMob by email when they made me one of MentorMob's innovators. Other members of MentorMob were familiar to me, particularly Charles Perry and Eric Pitt. They make really useful contributions to Edmodo through the MentorMob community.
MentorMob and many of its Team are active users of Twitter: MentorMob (@MentorMob), Kristin Demidovich (@KristinMMarie), Erin Sheffer (@ErinMentorMob), Eric Pitt (@SuperBad) and Charles Perry (@CharlesUpTop). Following them on Twitter has opened up many avenues for me in the world of ed tech.
On Friday, March 15, Erin met me in the lobby of 321 N Clark Street, in Chicago. A huge building, not the tallest, but really tall nonetheless. I signed in and took the sticky label that identified who I am and who I was going to visit. Then she took me on a quick ride to the dizzying heights - I hate heights - of the MentorMob office on the 25th floor. Nothing palatial. If they could see our RE Office, they would be so jealous. It's more than twice the size of their office - but it doesn't have the views that they have, so maybe it would be us who would be jealous of them. Such a small space used by nine MentorMobsters! However, as I discovered, they are very active and often on the go, promoting their work and establishing a network that ensures the continued development of the playlist as a signature ed tech tool. Kris Chinosorn, who co-founded MentorMob with Vince, was working from home and Charles and Kristen headed off to the DML Conference.
[The view from MentorMob's Office. The Chicago finger is pointing in the direction they are moving in the ed tech world. Notice the sticky notes on the window. They use lots of them to chart their way towards their goal: to provide free education to everyone through the use of technology.]
I sat with Erin and Kristen in a work area outside their office and shared with them some of my experiences of the schools I had visited. We swapped stories about how the environment and the style of school buildings help to shape the education we receive.
One of my reasons for coming to MentorMob was to argue for a fully functional mobile version of the playlist. They are aware of the trend towards the use of the iPad as the principal technological device in schools in the developed countries, however, their goal is to reach out to the whole world. Right now that is more important than tackling some major programming issues related to making it possible to create and edit playlists on the iPad. It just hit me that not even Apple has been able to do that for iTunes-U!
I sat and listened to a conversation between Mike, James and George about the development of the beta version of the playlist.
[George, who works on the front end of the playlist is discussing with Mike and James (who's off-camera) about changes to the work flow chart and the impact of those changes on their timeline and also on the power and flexibility of the beta version of the playlist.]
It didn't take me long to realise that pushing the mobile technology barrow would do no good for anyone, so I put that aside and focused on what I had to offer to make the beta version better - as I understand the teaching-learning process. Erin made notes (using Evernote, Erin?) as I spoke about the need for the flexibility that would allow for alternate pathways in a playlist. (When I get access to the Internet - I'm composing this on my way back home - I will add my thoughts to one of the threads in the beta version conversations.)
Programmed learning has been around for a long time. When I studied to be a teacher, it was drilled into me that teaching is about taking each student from the "known" to the "unknown". That is what I try to do every time I step into a teaching-learning situation. And I saw it demonstrated well in some of the schools I visited - the ones where I observed lessons being taught.
When I create a playlist and add a step, I am conscious of providing users with information about the some aspect of a topic, or theme. I want that information to become knowledge. Without entering into a treatise about the nature of knowledge, I would like to offer this: knowledge is preceded by understanding. If the point behind the step is not understood, then there is no point to proceeding further. We need to be able to step aside and work on what confuses us. It is this side step that is missing. Put another way: in flow chart style, "If yes, then 'this'. If no, then 'that'. The 'yes' represents the linear model of the playlist. The 'no' represents stepping to one side to clear away the confusion so that you can enter the playlist at the next step, or whichever step you choose to do next.
I sat in on part of their Team Meeting and was introduced to Chris, who was working from home. He and Vince founded MentorMob about eighteen months ago. Sitting in their office reminded me of the days when I was a part of the inner workings of Perth YCS and we would meet and plan and each person had specific tasks that were all seen as important. It was obvious to me that each of the nine members of MentorMob contributes to the success of their work.
The most amazing insight I gained from the day is the motivation for what they do is not so different from my own. Changing the world to make it better for everyone, especially those who have become enslaved by systems, or individuals is an awesome vocation - and the single-minded ness and commitment that I find here is like what I have found in so many teachers and youth workers who I have been privileged to meet in my life.
It was in this context that I came to an appreciation for the work of entrepreneurs. I had been of the view that such people were self-centred. Erin used the word to refer to innovators and initiators who sought to make the world better for others through the use of creative processes. The Kwagala Project, which is being promoted by MentorMob, is a powerful example of entrepreneurship, as is MentorMob's iEmpower Campaign. Search for #iEmpower on Twitter to gain some insights into the entrepreneurship that is at the heart of MentorMob and its work.
Google was part of our conversation during my visit. I learned that there was a new device called the "Chromebook" which is a cloud-based computer running Google's Chrome OS and using Google Apps. My investigation of this resource will be the subject of another post.
I'm really grateful to Erin and Kristen and the others who made me feel welcome and shared with me how they work together to create learning opportunities for people around the world. I left their space with the commitment to find ways of using playlists to the max on iPads and then to share that through my blog, through Twitter and through Facebook.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Inside 321 N Clark Street, Chicago. - I wish!