evolution of a homeroom class, ongoing. March 26, 2008

It's been a few months since my last entry; the entries used to be weekly, as I adjusted to a new kind of teaching. Now, here I am just a bit later and completely on the "other side."

There's no going back.

This year my students and I have experienced a fundamental “shift” in education. We are not only a strong classroom community (in real time, face to face, here and now), we are also a strong networked community online.

Our network is private. It's a ning network like Fireside and Classroom 2.0, only it's composed primarily of young people. They have blogs, forums, profile pages. They work on a substantial part of their curriculum online, researching, posting their productions. They share work with their community and with a couple of other communities as well, including Art Snacks and EFL Classroom. Students read and comment on each others' work. They participate in discussions about their studies and their lives.

When students travel, they often produce travelogues and share them with their network in real time. Thus, in some ways, we've all traveled to Japan, Prague, Brazil, Iran, Israel, India, and all across America together. We've heard about castles and wild lands, about bustling and complicated cities all over. (We learn about internet access around the world...)
A student who moved away is still part of our network.

Relatives and friends are getting added now; we're becoming a multi-generational learning community. The teacher's sister is on. So are a couple of education professors. So is the school's librarian, and soon, a particular grandpa who has been writing extensively in our "Ask Elders" program all year long.

How did this happen? How did we become what we are, a networked learning community, connected across time and space, connected 24/7, charging ahead in the world almost as a learning organism composed of individual units all humming and operating together?

I don't know.

I do remember at one point there was a turnaround in my head: Oh, I thought, I see. It's not that I make a list of "regular" work for the week with a subcomponent that's "networked" activity. The edges had blurred too much to keep them separate. I relaxed and went with the trend. I began making a list of all the work blended together, requiring posting of much of the written work, and requiring as well that the students take the time to respond to each other, and also to leave "nice notes" as supportive comments just scattered around on blogs and work.

And by the way, even though technology has become a primary and central learning tool in our classroom learning community, it has dropped into the background. We hardly notice the machines as machines or the applications as applications, if that makes sense. They are all simply "enablers" of learning. They provide avenues, pathways, background, and production tools--the focus is learning. As in making a movie, the focus isn't on the camera but rather what is conveyed. As in listening to music, the focus is the song, not the player.

I know many people would say, well...duh, but a lot of people wouldn't--especially other teachers and administrators. Since they mostly haven't experienced the power of online learning they focus on the machinery, and also perhaps of learning as a mechanical process of dumping skills from one location to another. Web 2.0 is not even in their framework. "Content" is not an "interactive substance" in their minds, but a stationary set of "knowledge bits" that can be placed into the students--or not--depending on whether the "machine works." So even though we're working away on computers that have become for us something like our learning vehicles, they are seeing us as a classroom that has a lot of cars, not as a classroom on a journey.

About half or more of the kids in my class have personal computers. There's a smartboard as well, sort of a central "put it up and talk about it" place. Never does a student have to "go without" a computer if it's needed. The kids share their computers freely (it's surprising how generous and open they are in this way) and a student can also go to the lab to work, or use a portable laptop cart computer. We are sitting pretty, for equipment. Computers are up and at our service most of the day. But that's not the point, the point is we are enabled. The sky's the limit. Oh, wait, no there's no limit to the sky.

I think I'll keep this a draft of what's going on, and see if I can make myself describe the change in list form. I know what some of my friends will say immediately: give examples! Ok, I will, but this time I'm just getting down some of the overall comments on the type of learning that has become central in our Significant Shift in education.

I see the flexible use of technology, the use of an application in one setting or subject and then in another setting or subject; the toolbank can be reached into and chosen from. Different tools are used for different types of knowledge conveyance; the same tool is used for a variety of new (perhaps unintended) purposes, too.

The kids in my class feel:

I can find out anything right now.
I can select a set of worthwhile references on a topic.
I can watch over myself as I navigate on the internet; and keep reminding myself to watch over myself, and help others to stay safe and keep on high-quality roads.

I can learn about the world.
I can know about current events.
I can access my library and thousands of libraries.
I can access my local museums and thousands of museums.
I can access absolutely up to date science news, or any kind of news, all the latest research. I can often find it on various levels, some for my teacher or parents, some for my friends and myself in a kind of "junior level" through accessing the educational subsites of larger sites.

I can do all this within a group, and we advance and accelerate each other's learning.

We have a teacher who is actively harvesting information for us; she models for us how to do it, and we do it for each other.

She asks questions of her colleagues, all over the world. She shows us how she does this.

She works to create learning environments for us. She starts us off by providing environments, contexts, conditions for learning.

My community is linked to other communities.

I bring people I love into what I’m doing.

I am not afraid of questions.

I write constantly, in order to communicate my ideas with others. I listen to, watch, and read the work of members of my learning community. I have a responsibility to support my classmates in their and in all of our learning.

I know how to create music, movies, podcasts, slide shows, multimedia productions of all sorts.

I can study a current event or topic area and present it to my class with high-quality links so they can examine my interpretation of the knowledge, can see what I was studying, and can reinterpret the sources in their own way.

I know how to settle in; stay with something, not be flighty. I have learned to work in depth.

I can work on problem-solving teams with my classmates, thinking through problems that are multifaceted, determining the variables in the networked systems. My classmates and I can propose ways to manipulate important variables or pieces of the puzzles in order to affect positive change. I am learning how people can make a difference in the world.

I know how to follow the pathways of my learning through internet knowledge hunts; I can move forwards, backwards, along multiply branched routes. I have the personal skill of being a good knowledge hunter. I can follow the traces of my knowledge hunt. I can select high-quality references and share them with others. I share pathways and links as part of my job. We know how to pool our knowledge.

I’m proud to show my friends and family what I’m doing.

I share thoughts with the elders in my life, and share their thoughts with my friends.

I have a place for personal sharing where I feel safe and respected, valued.

I can frolic and play with my classmates, creativity is open and can be initiated by anyone. I can share deep thoughts and silly thoughts.

I am comfortable and enthusiastic as a learner. The world is opening to me...

(cross-posted on http://firesidelearning.ning.com)

Views: 78

Comment by Britt Gow on September 25, 2008 at 6:35am
Hi Connie, I've revisited this post, after looking for it for a while. I remember the enthusiasm and excitement that came through the page. But when I first read it, I really had no idea of the potential of a social network for students. Now I am beginning to understand, although my students and I still have a long journey to be at the stage you speak about. Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work!


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