George Machlan

Confessions of a DIY Addict

George Machlan

A two-part adventure with tragedy, desperation, redemption and hope.

My name is George Machlan and I am a do-it-yourself addict. I have been sober for two weeks and I am happy to be free. I, like many of you, have taken on the role of being superman since I first came online to try teaching. Some of us have learned this mode of behavior from birth in our cultures. I think that it actually crosses cultural borders in that, at the heart, it is about control. As a control freak I certainly did not like the burden I put on myself but I just knew that nobody could do it as well as I. Have you believed that you must do so much yourself to be successful, that you find yourself alone and overwhelmed? Have almost given up on having enough time to achieve your goals?  Then take heart and listen to my story…

Once upon a time there was a pretty cool guy named George who wanted to find an online path to achieve significance. Pretty typical among older males who wish to impart some of their wisdom to the next generation, he decided to teach. As he was not credentialed, his only venue was the online frontier where almost anyone could carve out a niche.

The first path he traveled was the path of accumulating provisions for the journey ahead. It seemed a reasonable efficiency to have a myriad of class materials on hand for all contingencies encountered. Then, no matter the time constraints on a given day, he would have class support materials ready. He also continuously developed lesson plans which were hardly ever used because the class dynamics would never settle down to a consistent demographic of learners. After four years and thousands of documents he quit spending so much time on these. He found the freedom to let go of that task and concentrate on what he does best. He is a coach/teacher/motivator with a flair for fun. He now uses free or inexpensive materials that are online. These materials are made by professionals with course writing skills and passions.  Current favorites are from Jacek at English-4U and the Visual Dictionary. Next up he will be experimenting with materials from Brad at Edulang and Jason with Fluency MC.

The second path for our hero, George, was to try to become the master of every learning app, portal, gadget and cool tool that everyone flashed before his computer screen. Dear reader, I need not tell you of the hopelessness of this online malady. Probably 95% of would-be online teachers suffer from this cruel task master. It is not that there are not some very cool apps out there, the problem is that it never ends. And much as the curse of Atlas, you too may be doomed to forever trying to hold that orb up. Our hero now has chosen three platforms to maintain his skills on.  Skype, WizIQ and Vokle. Each has properties to serve a specific class dynamic. While there are others popping up every day, he chooses to stay with his students and his first love of teaching rather than pursuit of the Holy Grail, aka the perfect widget for online teaching.

This also means that he does not even look at the latest and greatest things like mobile learning. The burden is simply too great to carry alone, others will prepare the way and when the time is right, he will allow them to bring him on board. This revelation that others can prepare the way without him allows our hero time to live a life and even make time for family and friends. Surfing the internet is no longer scary because he does not fear finding a new app that must be learnt.

A path not taken was a truly academic path. The LMS (learning management systems) underworld with all of the demons and darkness that entails. Our hero (George) was never under the thumb of administrative types with the attendant demands of structure and accountability. However it is truly amazing that conventional teachers would bring that monster to the online world. I guess the old saying, “The evil we know…” is at work here. In any case, IF the online class materials are chosen carefully (e.g. Edulang and Khan Academy) one can let them take care of these administrative type tasks.  For George, if it doesn’t fit on his blog or FB class info pages, it is pitched.

The paths our hero and each of us takes are very similar. While the reader may take exception to the particulars, it seems systemic that we all spend far too long on unproductive paths. We legitimize this by referring to professionalism and self sufficiency dogmas. Kindly grant artistic license to the story and play along with the premis that we corporately, if not individually are constantly trapped on dead-end paths. Are we spending far too much time on unproductive pursuits? Is there simply not enough time to be and know everything?

– End of part 1 –

Stay tuned for part 2 where Hero passes through the bowels of Hades (aka Facebook, Twitter, Blogging and SEO) narrowly escaping into his newfound “Promised Land” and his “happily ever after” path where you can now find him spending most of his time and energy teaching.

  • bnleez

    I wonder how much of a DIY approach to learning (and teaching) can enter into both informal and formal learning circles. Coming from a formal learning perspective, I think there’s room to incorporate a DIY approach to how, when, where, and with whom one learns…perhaps more than we’re willing to admit sometimes. Accountability and rigor can be characterized in terms of the quality of instruction and assessment that takes place in a classroom, but only to the extent that learners take it upon themselves to actively participate in the learning process. An educator’s role is to create the learning ecosystem that affords learners to DIT (i.e., Do It Themselves).

    Two types of learner motivation exist. A DIY approach in formal learning creates a type of learner motivation that is based on an ideal; that is, what are the ideal characteristics that a learner can expect after having completed a particular course. A DIY approach in informal learning is driven by Gardner’s (1985, 2001) distinction between integrative and instrumental motivation. The former refers to how a learner is driven to learn simply for the love of it, and the latter refers to how acquired knowledge and skills will create a future benefit, such as getting a new job, etc.

    Motivational factors from a pedagogical standpoint can drive the tools one uses to educate others. Educators may choose tools simply for the love of the tool, or they may choose tools because of the benefit they receive in doing so. For example, tools are oftentimes embedded within an online community, so the motive for using the tool may come more from the benefits of interacting within the community than interacting within the tool itself. Tools and social interaction are not mutually exclusive, but are relational and may change over time. I’ve found that finding that “perfect” tool comes from experimenting and reflecting on what has worked and what hasn’t. To help with the experimentation and reflection processes, openly sharing our experiences with others can provide the means for educators to network around tools, motives, successes, failures, etc. so that a more productive learning network results.

    George, you say you use Skype, WizIQ and Vokle as each has properties to serve a specific class dynamic. This type of sharing among educators is the basis for understanding what tools work for certain individuals within certain types of educational contexts. Thanks for sharing George, great post, and I look forward to reading more!

    • Ben, it seems that a pedagogy is one of the biggest missing links for the average DIY’er. I wonder if outcomes testing would suffice. I am beginning to gear more of my class dynamics to a TEFL based format. And, if I get a student to use some of Edulang’s testing we should be able to tell if we are on target.

      • bnleez

        “…it seems that a pedagogy is one of the biggest missing links for the average DIY’er.”

        Interesting comment. I would argue that some aspects of being an “average DIYer” has nothing to do with pedagogy at all. Other aspects might include educators being “learning ecosystem” designers that allow learners to interact with content, technologies, and people. But there still comes a time when some learners have moments when they rely on a didactic leader, would you agree? And when those moments emerge, an educator must be prepared.

        As far as accountability goes, a variety of evidence is needed including but not limited to outcomes-based testing. We need to “triangulate” student outcomes with both qualitative and quantitative types of data which is certainly no small feat.

        • I might agree if I knew what you just said. I guess I was showing off that I learned how to spell pedagogy. Still can’t pronounce it though. 😉

  • pietropan

    Just goes to show that one has to be selective and not strive for all-encompassing knowledge. Once you’ve found what suits and appeals to you, you should grab it.
    there is simply too much online material to cope with ,,,, and anyway a lot of it can be repetitive.

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