Twitter misadventures and stumbling into connected learning

Twitter

Like most connected educators, my first ‘virtual mentors’ came via Twitter. While I have had a Twitter account (@BarMill) dating back to 2009, I didn’t really make any new connections there. Mostly I followed my friends and a few celebrities. However, I did find time to share some insights from my classroom. Please enjoy these highlights:

It wasn’t until I attended an International Baccaularreate Organization Primary Years Program workshop in 2012 and facilitator Craig Eldred introduced me to #PYPchat that I discovered the potential of Twitter for professional networking and relationship building.

Some of my ‘Most Valuable Tweachers’ are Joy Kirr, Melvina Kurashige, Steve Collis, and Sherri Edwards. They are generous sharers and active connectors and I highly recommend following them!

Although I don’t particularly care for Twitter chats (I prefer asynchronous online collaboration and cooperation), understanding how communities organize around hashtags on Twitter and other networks has been very valuable.

Twitter is a gateway network. Once a user begins to discover and navigate the possibilities, they will uncover opportunities for learning around the world, across diverse networks and communities.

I would encourage you to explore my favorite networked learning community, Connected Learning.

Connected Learning

The first MOOC I lurked in was MIT Media Lab Learning Creative Learning in 2013. Through that experience I was introduced to Connected Learning and DML Research Hub. I don’t remember exactly how I was introduced to the Making Learning Connected MOOC, but I signed up and jumped in.

The encouragement and enthusiasm of Terry Elliot and Kevin Hodgson are most responsible for hijacking me into the Making Learning Connected MOOC and Connected Learning community. Please read the post, My Connected Learning Credo, for details on how I was absconded into a life of convivial collaboration.
This community and the networks into which it is woven have been inspirational. To me, it’s a perfect example of connectivist learning because the community is the mentor and we all participate to increase its wisdom.

It’s also never too late to join Making Learning Connected (#clmooc on Twitter), which kicked off* this week!
*World Cup pun absolutely intended.

Asking for help

I’ve had bad luck with mentors, at least when I needed them most. In my first two years of teaching in a startup charter school in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, my teaching mentors quit and left the school. At least I’m pretty sure they didn’t leave because of me.

On top of that, I’m not very good at asking for help. Being introverted and stubborn, I tend to want to do things in my own way and bulldoze my way through challenges.

Luckily, I shared a lunch period with Karen Kazanci, an outgoing teacher of similar age and a bit more classroom experience, who was generous to share ideas, provide feedback, and offer reassurance. She is now the proprietor of Leaping Lotus Yoga, which provides yoga classes designed for young children.

She taught me that the most important act of mentoring is listening. When I struggled, she listened to my lamenting patiently and always responded with positivity. When I celebrated, she celebrated with me. When she offered advice, it was usually to capitalize on what she saw as my strengths.

She also seemed to know exactly when not to talk about the classroom and work.

The two of us were the only founding teachers to stay as long as we did in what was at times a challenging and intense environment. We contributed to what would become a healthy and supportive learning community in spite of significant obstacles. I suspect that our chats over lunch had a lot to do with it.

Technology to redefine learning

There are two possible units of inquiry that I will be leading in the Autumn of 2014 as potential candidates for redefinition through technology:

Rights & Responsibilities – inquiry into how human rights are granted, viewed, and protected

What’s your story? – inquiry into personal histories and the role of primary sources in historical understanding

In any case, my goal is to embed technology to maximize student agency. There are also Web 2.0 tools that need to be introduced and practiced throughout the school year so that students will be prepared to use them for their end of year Exhibition. Which one of these units is most suitable to be redesigned around a Web 2.0 tool in a way that redefines the learning of the unit?

One way to address this question, or determine if it is even a good question, is to consider tasks. In order to assess whether students have mastered using a new tool, they must be able to use it to complete a task.

Rights & Responsibilities
In this unit, we introduce Wikis as a tool to organize and share information and links. It was used simply to aggregate research findings. Students also created speech and slide presentations to communicate their understandings of the connections between rights and responsibilities.

One possible task might be to create a wiki to raise awareness for a human rights issue, embed a survey, petition, or pledge form, then use videos of their presentations to promote their causes and pages via social media like our class twitter account and blogs. Students this year completed a similar task, but only researched an issue to prepare a blog post.

The greatest challenge would be for me to design learning experiences to support students as they become web designers and social activists, perhaps at the expense of some of the ‘formal’ learning activities we did in the past. Perhaps the solution lies in integrating those activities into the learning of the web tool?

From a planning point of view, the wikis would be the focus. From a learning point of view, human rights would be the focus.

In terms of student agency, feeling that they are using technology to take action for a cause that they care about should foster an authentic sense of purpose and ownership. Web 2.0 tools and social media would empower us to redefine our learning from research and presentation to taking action to raise awareness.

What’s your story?

The summative assessment for this unit was to use VoiceThread to create a personal history for a family or community member. The process was quite tedious, and the results of mixed quality. VoiceThread is a fantastic tool for creating a personal history, but it certainly didn’t raise the task to the level of ‘redefinition’.

One of the challenges was in finding a community to share our stories. I believe that if I could find at least one other class also making personal histories about family members, it would significantly enhance the learning experience for students. We did collaborate with another class using VoiceThread to create personal introductions, however, that meant that our interactions focused on the technology, not on the learning.

Facilitating global collaboration among students with technology must focus on the learning, not only the technology.

Having some high-quality artifacts from this year, I can provide a model to other teachers so that students would be working in the same genre. By creating a tool with which we could all share links, the possibilities for interaction and conversation among students would be significantly enhanced.

It could be a case in which ‘modification’ on a large enough scale becomes ‘redefinition’.

Conclusion

I think that the key for integrating technology for me is to not think of it as ‘integration’, but rather as ‘utilization’. Finding a way to fit technology into an existing unit is inadequate. If my goal is to maximize student agency, then technology should be integrated as a tool to empower students to have more control over the direction of their learning.
This is a rich transformational process that I look forward to continuing over the summer.
What would you recommend?
Are there technological tools that I seem to be unaware of?
Are teachers already connected and collaborating on projects like these?
If so, where would I find them?

The future of learning

This week, I am excited to continue my connected learning inquiry as a participant in a new course, Teacher Practice in a Connected World, taught by Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching.

I feel very grateful to be enrolled in the course on a scholarship from The Rendell Center for Citizenship and Civics.

Ooooh?


Our first task is to write a statement of goals. It’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on my connected learning and teaching journey which began about one year ago and summarize my hopes and goals for the future.

A connected learning manifesto

During the past year, I became a connected educator. Locating other teachers actively sharing and interacting on social media, developing a robust professional blogging regimen, participating in the Making Learning Connected MOOC, and progressing into a participatory flow through a myriad of online learning communities has led me to a place in which the distinctions between teaching and learning, virtual and real, online and offline, have all become blurred beyond recognition.

It feels like a long way from my teacher preparation courses nearly ten years ago. In those days, ‘educational technology’ was a set of multicolored markers and making a gradesheet with spreadsheet software. My college of education, one of the largest in the United States, had exactly one SmartBoard that I am aware of.

Technology has been redefined in the past ten years and is now on the cusp of being used to redefine education.

I believe that connected learning, specifically digitally networked learning will replace schools as we know them in the not too distant future. I also believe that this is a change that will benefit learning as a function of being human, education as an institution, and the world as a whole as our capacity for international understanding and cognitive empathy increases.

Connectivist Massive Open Online Courses (cMOOCs) are a prototype of this development in learning, as are the many various online spaces from student blogging platforms to maker spaces, interest focused forums to social media. I have learned a lot as a participant in the COETAIL community of international educators. Edcamp is also a revolutionary development and I was honored to help organize the first Edcamp Tokyo.



I am joining this movement and the ‘Teacher Practice in a Connected World’ course because I want teachers, as professional learners, to wrest and maintain control of educational technology and connected learning. We must master and use technology to continue to alter the course of the education so-called pendulum so that it swings ever more strongly toward learner empowerment.

Hopefully, we will be able to begin to design networks that can realize the potential for connected learning that already exists. In fact, the networks already exist. We need to coach ourselves and our colleagues to use them and take ownership. I am hopeful that one aspect of this course will be to create channels to encourage more teachers to join the digital collaboration that has already begun.

To do this, I think I need to understand the attitudes and practices that currently exist beyond my school and connected learning networks. Why isn’t everyone sharing online? When I invite colleagues in my school to participate in a MOOC or join a discussion forum, they literally never do. Am I selling it wrong? Is there something I could do to make it easier for them to begin?

I have approached connected learning from a totally practical perspective, as a learner, and I would like to spend some time exploring a more theoretical point of view. I believe that would enable me to better apply what I have learned as pedagogy.

Design thinking, experience design, and learning design are disciplines that I believe are essential to my goals to transform my classroom into a connected learning space. This has been of interest to me since I blogged about it in the post, Metateaching: Teachers as anthropologists and designers. The Macromedia Design Thinking MOOC has been an eye opening experience and something very different than learning that I have done in the past, particularly compared to ‘education’ classes. I see the potential of design principles to create environments in which interest driven learning and standards based education can connect and thrive.




The Maker Education Initiative is particularly interesting to me as a vehicle for supporting authentic learning and connecting it to the expectations of institutions and governments, particularly with so much emphasis being directed at STEM education (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). This year, I started an after school Maker Club. It has been fascinating to see our young makers’ attitudes toward creativity and collaboration change in the first few weeks from trepidation to confidence and enjoyment.


Another project I look forward to developing further is Independent Inquiry. I started it two years ago as a way to replace homework with more relevant learning. Now, it incorporates values and principles from many of my favorite learning organizations including Connected Learning and the 21st Century Fluency Project. This summer, I plan to revise and reiterate the reflection tools once again for the next school year. Ideally, I would like to collaborate with other teachers interested in connecting students pursuing similar inquiries or to inspire each others’ curiosities. Many classrooms are applying Genius Hour, but I don’t see the kinds of sharing that existing networks could facilitate. I would like to help improve that situation.

Finally, my goal is to have fun again this summer. Last year, the Making Learning Connected MOOC showed me how connecting formal and informal learning is enjoyable. I would love to invite and engage with more wonderful people and excellent learners!


[Edit 2014.05.30 This post reimagined as a Frank Zappa fueled multimedia blitz: http://zeega.com/165935]