A Review of aGAL

I gave copies of the initial printing of A Gardener’s Approach to Learning, to folks at ISTE 10, last month, people with whom I have worked repeatedly. One was Doug Johnson, and instructional technology leader in Ontario. I’ve learned since that Doug has just retired. “Great luck to you, Doug.”

He read the book on the plane, on his way home from Denver (where ISTE 10 happened), and then wrote the following review upon arriving back home.

At the ISTE Conference in Denver, I had a nice chat with David Warlick and he presented me with a signed copy of his new book “A Gardener’s Approach to Learning” – Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network. It’s now a proud possession and was read cover to cover on the fight back to Detroit yesterday.

My thoughts…

The book is self-published through Lulu although according to David, it isn’t currently available for retail. It is listed on the Lulu website so it won’t be long now before it’s available for all. Great, I thought. Another book about Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools. But, I was pleasantlysurprised as I dug into the book. Yes, David covers the tools and will take the reader down a number of different paths. But, so many books do this.

What makes this book unique is embedded in the advice that you need to, not only use the tools, but use them wisely, carefully, and cultivate the resources to maximize the benefit. In that respect, there is great advice and good resources for all in the book.

I thought that I had a good handle on things but as I read the book I found additional ideas and thoughts that I know will engage me now that I’m out of the air and connected again. In depth analysis of the utilities appear in the chapter entitled “Mining the Conversation”. Here, the discussion goes well beyond the “click here and stuff happens” instructions. To add an additional level of authenticity, David sprinkles the entire book with references to many of the people that you may have met online. In this manner, the book really personalizes the learning and the use of these tools.

The book is also designed to be interactive and truly uses the modern tools. Throughout, there are many references to internet web resources. Rather than provide the actual URL, David has shortened them all using the bit.ly web shorteners. This approach should encourage readers to actually follow through and easily check them out. I think we’ve all seen attempts to introduce multimedia companions to books by the inclusion of a CD-ROM taped to the inside cover. In a truly innovative way, readers can just point a camera or cell phone at a page and be transported to any of the many tutorials. A pmwiki site has been created to hold tutorials and QR codes are used throughout the book as the launch pad to the tutorials. Even if you are a daily user of these tools, this book is a good read. You can’t possibly know about all of the tools referenced but the message delivered should give you pause to think about how you use them. The analogy of freshly cultivated food from the family garden versus what you get when you speed through a drive thru window made me ponder the depth to which I use many of the tools. The terms “mining” and “cultivating” inspire to take a deeper and more meaningful use of the tools.

So, who should read this book? I suspect that there will be folks who “know it all” and will take a pass. That would be a shame. There’s a wealth of information for Web 2.0 users of all levels of sophistication. I do think that it would be an excellent resource for your principal or your school’s professional library. In one read, you can quickly bring people up to speed with many of the tools that so many of us use on a daily basis. If your school is using book study as a learning technique, this would be an excellent way to introduce or enhance any attempts to understand the impact of Web 2.0 tools in education. David even includes guiding questions and big ideas at the end of each chapter for discussion. If you’re a technology coordinator, this would be a great purchase for all of your schools to support the cause.1

1 Peterson, Doug. “A Gardener’s Approach to Learning.” Doug — Off the Record. 2 Jul 2010. Web. 2 Jul 2010. <http://dougpete.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/a-gardeners-approach-to-learning/>.

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