"Where's the Any Key:" Reflections on learning by a self professed IKEA Man

Learning Styles, is not a phrase to be snuffed at, The number of INSET sessions I have attended where, I work diligently through the analysis presented by the course leader, only to find my self summarised as the IKEA or Flat Pack Furniture (FPF) Man.

The IKEA or FPF man it seems can be characterised as one who takes home their flat pack, gets out the pieces and and then skillfully ignores the written instructions. They set about recreating from pictures, experience and memories, an object, based on how they think it is intended to look, and the functions they perceive it to perform. Trial and error, and problem solving play a large part in the creation of any object for the IKEA man. And rather than a bane I tend to see the characteristic as a boon. I have to say I am usually very pleased with myself when I am finished a project (eventually). The object looks right, it does what I want it to do, before I like those around me tend to notice the pieces I have left over. Obviously this would be of immediate concern if I had been replacing the wheel on my car, but as a teacher and designer for learning the bits left over tell me more about the process I have gone through and the gaps in my learning than the object I have created ever could. As a learner I should not have Homer moments, but feel able to persevere, comfortable with the idea of playfulness as part of creative engagement with learning and so rather than walk away from problem feel able to evaluate and build on my mistakes

Using this analogy, while thinking about Podcasting, a recent process and tool I began to add to my toolbox, I thought I would witter a bit as I try to explore the process I go through when working with software tools for the first time, and try to unpick why the FPF approach helps me when designing new ICT mediated projects.

Building furniture by this analogy I guess is a bit like building a jigsaw. The benefits of such an approach for a teacher designing for learning with ICT, is how it facilitates the exploration of software affordance as we go. In demos we can see what the designers or developers intended the kit to do, the picture on the lid, or sitting with the handbook by our side we can work through the kit step by step, and engage with how the software works. Understanding the steps involved, and the outcome intended however is only part of seeing how we can apply a tool in the classroom. At IKEA I might like the look of a particular kitchen, but it is unlikely that I would move it lock stock and barrel into my home, without first measuring it up, identifying what I wanted to do their or considering the location of utilities I couldn't move, and the appliances I would like to install. With ICT too, seeing the tool's potential affordances in the classroom requires a look beyond the technology and an exploration of how my intentions might be achieved with a particular group of students indeed how the kit or combinations of tools can be used to enable the creation of learning contexts which are meaningful to them.
As a learner, going back to my FPF Man analogy, I am also trying to demonstrate here that failure can be and should be an option, all that goes wrong need not be an end. The "bits left over" are actually not always a complete disaster but can be the beginning of an evaluation and review process, which reignites the learning process. For me they represent gaps in my knowledge and experience, as I begin to author relevance in my own learning, as well as that of the students. In engaging with the software as a learner I not only engage with the technical nuances but begin to preempt the difficulties I might have in implementing a software or hardware solution in the classroom. Often as a learner the bits left over represent whole new avenues for exploration, investigation and even exploitation, opening doors to what some may call creative use, but I would prefer to see as instrumentation, a process which many of our students engage with when given software tools to play or work with for the first time. This is also a process through which I often find new and diverse roles that an application might fulfill in addition to those it was intended to perform.
Planning for learning then is a design process and a learning process in itself, identifying what it is I want to achieve, and then seeking out the tools and processes that will enable me and my students to meet these ends. I think this is a prerequisite process if we are to unlock the creative potentials that ICT use in the classroom is purported to herald, if the learner is to be found at the heart of our planning, then we cannot avoid engaging ourselves as learners in the development of that planning. Embedding ICT is not souly about the technology, but the creation of contexts that enable relevance and meaning to be made from its use. I believe that the key to successful teaching with ICT is not about the delivery, or the technology but embedded in our preparation and design of the contexts for learning we intend to use, and the relationships we develop between ourselves and our students; and the tools and process that students engage in with us, in working towards the outcomes we wish them to achieve.
Working with a jigsaw it is easy to see at a glance which pieces are missing and where they go, though this is not always what we experience in the constantly changing landscape of the classroom. In the the collective mind of the classsroom the pieces and tools we are using may be clear to us, but what about the students, who throughout a session will be asking questions about what a particular bit is for? Where does it go? How does that bit relate to this and so on? Learning is not linear, but a networked series of iterative events. As a self taught ICT user, I am beginning to see how I come to terms with new kit, and for me being a Flat Pack Furniture Man has been a real asset in acquiring the skills and understanding I have. I have learned to take risks. As an adult building my new piece of furniture, and sitting next to the resultant pile of grommets and washers, I am more than happy to appraise the situation I am in, going back to the diagrams and those instructions asking questions similar to those above, looking for and evaluating the gaps in my project. Sometimes the pieces seem not to be too important, cosmetic touches perhaps when compared with how I will use it, and can be kept as is, but sometimes it means going back and re engineering parts of the object. Learning is messy, I do go to the instruction manuals and help files, but this is usually as a result of a question I have about how I get the kit to do something particular. I draw on my previous experiences in similar environments as I play, and then refer to the documentation to help me answer questions about unfamiliar aspects of the tool. This is perhaps something I do not share with many of my colleagues, whose experiences of ICT tools are less diverse. But why I feel the development of a generic skill base and tool box approach to the teaching and learning of ICT is more important in the development of Schemes of work, than the over use and product placement approach. With a generic skills base we can develop crossovers between environments and aid the making of connections between similar processes they use.
We can teach good habits and practices, such as cascade saving, a process which enables us to go back to a previous version of our project where everything was "working," and other skills such as copy and paste, or insert can then be used to recompile parts of the project, drawing on later saves if necessary, and so prior work and time is not entirely lost. When I learn new applications software and processes I intend to use in the classroom this is also how I tend to operate, and how I engage with the process of planning for learning with ICT. I tend to play with the bits in the box, using past experience and memories of the picture on the lid, or to identify how I would personally like to use the kit, I create relevance and contexts for use, frames around which I can make my play meaningful and productive, and on which I can hang my learning process. With the summer coming up I hope there will be enough time, to play with the loose end projects I have begun.
My big targets are to learn how to create podcasts for myself and begin to understand the hidden processes behind the publish button that make the difference between an uploaded audio to a website in Front Page and a subscription based serialisation. And secondly the biggy to complete my dissertation which will be cause for much celebration. No doubt the process will be messy, I will have bits left over, and may even discard tools as I go, but the journey will be as enlightening as the destination.

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