A Journey

Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands

Who’s ready to embark on a journey?

Over the last two weeks I have engaged in an incredible JOURNEY. I emphasize the word journey because it truly has been a process with many steps. As with any journey I have experienced many emotions, including: anticipation, excitement, frustration, panic, fear, exhilaration, and gratification. The fact that I immediately tie this experience to emotion is a testament to how invested I am in the process.

The anticipation came early on in the activity. Often when you plan a journey the first step is to get a map of where you are headed. However, with this assignment the end product was not very clearly defined. We were asked to embark on the trek without knowing exactly where we were headed. I had a choice to make. Do I hold back because I am unsure of where we were headed? Or do I go all in, trusting in the people who designed the experience to make sure I did not stray too far off path?  I decided to go all in and have not regretted that decision even once.

The first choice I had to make was which direction to head. While I did not have an exact map of where I was going, I did know that I was suppose to create a research-based learning experience. My design idea centered around my new role as an educational technology instructor. In my new job, I am blessed with the opportunity to provide training for the teachers in my district.  Our current model has been to provide one time trainings that teach a specific technology tool.  While these have been well received, I had a belief that there was an even better way to approach it. I wanted to create a professional development experience that would build over time. Instead of teaching teachers how to use one specific tool, I wanted them to learn how to find and implement tools on their own. However, those were only my gut instincts and this project needed to be based on solid research.

Equipped with the right tools, could I scale that mountain?

Research. Ugh, how I have hated that word since my undergraduate days. The research part of this journey felt like my mountain to scale. This process was designed to teach us that the learning experiences we were creating needed to be grounded in proven research. While I understand the logic of that, I have never had a lot of success in the research process. I always got what I needed, but it never felt I truly “got it”. In order to move past this hurdle I would have to dig deep.

As promised, we were given all the tools we needed to make it through this journey. Like any difficult task that is completed, the in depth look we took at the research process was really valuable for me. I have a better understanding of how to assess if research is “good” research. I have some tricks and resources to help focus my research, not only for this project, but for further learning as well. I felt my frustration with research turn to excitement as I saw that I could build a strong product when I based my ideas on something concrete and proven.

Once the research was in the books the actual design of the experience I wanted to create started taking place. At times I was overcome with the “hugeness” of the idea I was grappling with. Is it possible that in one month here in Ireland I could really design something that could have the kind of impact I was imagining? While it was scary, it was also quite exhilarating.  One of the things that kept me grounded was the many check-ins we did with peers and our professors.  Each time I met with someone, I was forced to express my design idea out loud. Describing it multiple times helped me to begin to narrow down and grasp just what it was I was picturing in my head. The feedback and reflection process was invaluable. With each iteration I felt myself gain more and more clarity about what I was trying to accomplish.

Those first few days of gathering research, formulating ideas and gaining clarity began to feel very comfortable. Then all of a sudden a deadline was thrown down…Friday by midnight…a draft of the actual product was due. The sense of panic I felt was very overwhelming.  It is one thing to have big ideas and to gain confidence in those ideas as you hash things out with others. It is another thing entirely to believe that you can actually put something concrete together in a short amount of time. Once again I had to trust in the process and just put one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving, even if it doesn’t seem like forward progress. One thing I have learned about myself, not just in the last two weeks, but through this program as a whole, is that sometimes I have to step away from the computer to get things done. It is amazing how whole parts of my project have come together while I was not actually sitting with my computer. My brain continues to mull over, hash out and plan even while walking the streets of Galway or sitting in a pub.

In a very short time span I have gone from self-professing my ineptitude with web design, to deciding my final product should be in the form of a website. Again, a testament to the environment that has been created for this class, I did not choose the safe path, but opted for the risky. The risky path was one I knew would push my comfort zone, but would ultimately create a project that I could use in my job back home. After all, isn’t that what I am here for? And isn’t that what I am asking the teachers who participate in my learning experience to do as well? If I expect them to take risks in learning with me, then I must be willing to take risks in my journey as well.

I pause now for a reflection on this journey so far, but it is far from over. The beginnings of the website are built, initial feedback is in, but there is much still to accomplish. I am incredibly grateful for the experience to this point. It has given me skills and confidence that will help me as I forge my way forward. I can picture the end of the journey more clearly now, but if there is one thing I have learned in this process it is this. The road may be uncertain, but if you are willing to go all in, the rewards will be well worth it, no matter the destination.

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