For our Teaching Understanding with Technology course at Michigan State this summer, we had to learn a new skill using only Youtube and internet help forums. I chose learning to swim with a proper front crawl. This is the final post for this project (click on these links to see the original post, an update post, and my practice log). Below are a video of my journey and some reflections on the process.
This experience reminded me of what we read in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Jenkins et al., 2006). In the paper, Jenkins (2006) proposes eleven new competencies which constitute literacy in the new media world (pp. 22-55). I found two of Jenkins eleven competencies key to unlocking this project:
“Judgment: the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 43).
Throughout this process, I had to evaluate the quality of the information that I was getting. In the case of Youtube videos, I tried to rely on reputational clues: who made the video, why did they make it, and what are commenters saying. Of course, once you start looking at commenters, you have to question their motivations and credentials as well.
“Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 49).
The point at which I really started to gather momentum in my practice was when I started participating in the dialog. After a week of practice sessions and Youtube binges, I developed a core concept of what I thought swimming was about. Remembering what we had read in Gee (2013) about the importance of the learner getting feedback on their thinking from teachers as they learn (pp. 3-5), I decided to write my own Reddit post. I tried to identify some key principles of the crawl and move myself more towards the expert mindset that we discussed in our reading of Bransford, et al (2000, pp. 31-50).
While my post did not skyrocket to the top of the Reddit charts, the responses I got were substantive and full of great resources. More importantly, post responders were framing information in a way that comported my thinking. This is not to say that they all agreed with my observations (although I did get some assurances that I was on the right track), but when they provided corrections or suggestions it was done through the context of my mental model. For example, one responder, PenguinAscot, pointed out that part of the reason for torso rotation was to fully engage the lat muscles in the catch (Kjorness 2017). Thinking of extension as part of rotation with the aim being more power made it feel much more natural to me than having the fragmented commands: extend, rotate, pull.
I chose swimming because I knew it would be hard to learn this way. There is so much information to process and coordinate. My thinking: if I can learn to swim better this way, I can learn just about anything this way. But it took a particular mindset and active engagement. It is true that there are videos and help threads about anything on the internet, but you can’t simply go to one, follow the instructions word-for-word, and hope for the best. To really learn in a new media environment you have to be an active participant. You must constantly evaluate the veracity and quality of the information you are taking in. Then you have to be willing to construct your own models and open them to critique by those more knowledgeable than you.
Bransford, J., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.), (2000), How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school (pp. 3-27). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368.
Gee, J. P. (2013). Digital Media and Learning: A Prospective Retrospective. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from http://jamespaulgee.com/pdfs/Digital%20Media%20and%20Learning.pdf
Jenkins, Henry. (2013). New Media Literacies: Learning in a Participatory Culture. Retrieved from http://www.newmedialiteracies.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/NMLWhitePaper.pdf/
Kjorness, Chris. (2017). Swim Masters: Are these the 3 keys to a good crawl stroke. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/Swimming/comments/6p14ft/swim_masters_are_these_the_3_keys_to_a_good_crawl/?st=j5ntxraf&sh=abd49784