‘Messing Around’ More

This post is a result of my work in my COETAIL course and is cross-posted from my blog over there.

Over the weekend, a lot of my tweeps were at 21c Learning Hong Kong. If I were going, one of the main reasons I would have done so would have been to see Punya Mishra from MSU. He is a driving force behind TPACK. During Mishra’s keynote, Jabiz tweeted:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/intrepidteacher/statuses/170433850911105024″]

This immediately reminded me of Messing Around. In their whitepaper, authors boyd, Ito, et al. write the following:

When messing around, young people teachers begin to take an interest in and focus on the workings and content of the technology and media themselves, tinkering, exploring, and extending their understanding. [p. 20]


It is important to recognize, however, that this more exploratory mode of messing around is an important space of experimental forms of learning that open up new possibilities and engagements. [p. 23]


we see [messing around] as a necessary part of self-directed exploration in order to experiment with something that might eventually become a longer-term, abiding interest in creative production. One side effect of this exploration is that youth teachers also learn computer skills they might not have developed otherwise. [p. 25]

(Obviously, the strikethroughs are my edits!)

In my role as technology facilitator, I spend a lot of time with teachers, either in a one-on-one, small group, or workshop setting.  While there is an obvious willingness to learn something new, that desire to ‘mess around’ is usually missing from the teachers. There’s a huge list of legitimate reasons why this is the case: lack of time, too much marking, planning, other  meetings, to name a few. I get that. But as teachers, we must be willing to the behaviors that we want to see most in our students: curiosity, self-reliance, inquiry, stick-to-it-tiveness. To me, that is what ‘messing around’ is all about.

As teachers, we all have expertise. We know our content areas (Content Knowledge) and have been trained (or have learned on the job!) in teaching pedagogy (Pedagogical Knowledge). Historically, the best teachers have been the ones who lived inside the intersection of those two realms of knowledge.

With the increased pervasiveness, ubiquity and infusion of technology, there is a third realm that defines the best teachers: Technological Knowledge. The TPACK model of technology integration helps teachers think about the intersection of these the knowledge areas when developing and delivering meaningful learning experiences for students. I believe that it is only through ‘messing around’ and discovering new possibilities within the context of one’s own Content and Pedagogical Knowledge can teachers begin to truly harness the transformative power of technology in learning.

How much ‘messing around’ do you do? When do you find the time? What keeps you from doing it more?

Image Credits:

5 thoughts on “‘Messing Around’ More

  • February 19, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Love the post Clint and the fact that you used the word “stick-to-itiveness” in a piece of academic work. 😉

    I’m with you 100% on the reality that I was once again smacked in the face with this week… some teachers really don’t have a desire engage in inquiry. Yet, we expect that our students are inquirers. See the problem?
    I’ve had lots of late night conversations with fellow educators about this problem and I’m sure there are more ahead (Mumbai?). Some of the most salient points raised relate to being comfortable. Many of us (me included) have been in school ecosystems from age 5-now. They thrive on the comfortable routines, the structures, the relationships and hierarchies. Having never experienced “messing around” as a valid and valued way to learn, it’s an uphill battle to get people to try it.
    What I think we can do is maybe have a “way in” by focusing on people’s passions outside of school. Get them to mess around in networked learning environments related to their passions (i.e. guitar) and then try to transfer those skills to their jobs.

  • February 19, 2012 at 10:36 am

    @Jeff Academic? Hardly! But it is an underutilized word in my opinion…

    You and I have talked about this before, but there is a shift that needs to take place. Teachers need to stop seeing themselves as ‘that person in the front of the class’ and need to see themselves as ‘lead learner’. We already model how to take notes, how to solve math problems, how to write lab reports; why don’t we model how to be curious and inquiry (enquiry?) driven? To me, it is one of the ultimate ironies of ‘schooliness’. (BTW, whatever happened to Clay Burrell? Anyone?)

    I know there are a lot of realities that need to be considered regarding teacher responsibilities and expectations. Perhaps first and foremost needs to be a redefinition of what those responsibilities and expectations are.

    I love the idea of hooking teachers with their passions. Come to think of it, this is exactly one of the differentiation strategies that is used with students. Wait a minute….

  • February 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    A well-written and particularly timely post Clint! I’m not surprised to see Jeff has already chimed in, as we realized we might have pushed some staff members beyond their comfort zones earlier this week by suggesting they engage in networked learning.

    For some (those with a curious and open-minded disposition), it was like opening a door to a new world – one look inside and they were away! But for others, they didn’t seem remotely interested in opening the door at all, let alone trying anything new.

    To piggyback on your idea of connecting with teachers’ passions, I wonder if this is why our informal ‘Date Night with your Mac’ session earlier in the month was so successful. We steered right away from school-based tech use, and provided people with some options around their personal interests (e.g. Making a photo book of their holiday photos, creating a home movie, or apps to use when traveling).

    Now, it could have been the wine tasting we held alongside it (!!), but I don’t think we have done a PD session that has had such a favorable response before. People are already asking when the next one is going to be held.

    I find myself wondering if we should have approached our PD session by asking people how they learn about their personal passions (not school-related areas of interest), and maybe opened their eyes to some possible ways technology could help in fostering these passions, instead of assuming that developing ones own professional practice was enough for all.

    Ahh well, there’s always next time…

  • February 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Hey guys,

    Look at us all here and talking serious. Great post Clint, I agree that often times we focus too much time and energy trying to get teachers to learn skills or worse tools to help them administrator their class. However, we need to move beyond that. Perhaps, you are right that we need to move even beyond engaging teachers with their pedagogy and how they teach and simply find a place where they explore and play and mess around.

    Thinking personally, I have learned nearly everything I know about technology playing and messing around for my personal hobbies.

    Here is a post written by our ES VP, feels relevant:


  • February 20, 2012 at 10:39 am

    @Keri-Lee Beasley Thanks KLB! I love the ‘Date Night’/wine tasting combo. Anything to get butts in seats I guess…. Maybe I’m a bit jaded at the moment, but isn’t our a profession that requires you to be a little bit passionate about what you do? I love the idea of connecting with personal interests, but isn’t “becoming a more effective teacher” something that all teachers should be interested in? And if you’re working at a 1:1 school or in a school where technology is being integrally embedded within the curriculum and within learning experiences, isn’t this interest of “becoming a more effective teacher” inextricable with “messing around” with technology? Sorry… !

    @Jabiz Raisdana (Intrepid Teacher) I’ve started writing the post probably 50 different times in the past, but the concept of “Google 20% Time” at school always intrigues me. What if we gave teachers time to work on anything that interests them? Surely that independent learning would have a filter effect on the classroom, right? Surely teachers would take the opportunity to find a relevant inquiry question (Now that I know how iMovie works, I wonder how I can us this in my classroom to show student learning?), explore it on their own or with some peers, and then apply their findings to their own classroom, right?

Comments are closed.