Is the Internet a mass of content or a mass of connections? As I thought about this question I reflected on my own history of the Internet usage. When I first began using the Internet I used it primarily to access information that I needed or wanted to know. However, as I grew older and the Internet grew, my Internet habits have changed. Now, I use the Internet mainly to connect with my family, friends, other educators, and others who share my passions. If the Internet has evolved to the point where people are mainly making connections to others, then the question that arises is how can we best utilize those connections to make a positive impact on ourselves and the world around us? The readings this week provided some insight into how I might be able to do this. I was particularly impressed with the example of Laura Stockman in the article “World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others” by Will Richardson. The article introduces us to Laura as an example of how one person’s global connections can have an impact locally. Laura’s example highlights the benefits of “The Collaboration Age;” however, as is pointed out in the article, the ability to connect with experts and others requires us to rethink our roles as educators. The article provides some insight in what that new role might be:
“It’s about being able to form safe, effective networks and communities around those explorations, trust and be trusted in the process, and contribute to the conversations and co-creations that grow from them.”
As I read this quote it reminded me of my own thinking over the summer in preparation for the COETAIL program. I pondered my role as a teacher integrating technology into the class and the article helped remind me of the direction I should continue to take in my own teaching practice. Instead of being the provider of knowledge or resources, I need to work with the students to ensure that they have the ability and the understanding of how to create their own learning networks through the use of blogs, VoiceThreads, Wikis etc. That being said, I was left with several questions:
- Where do I begin this process with my students, when I feel that my own understanding is not sufficient?
- How do I get the parents on board to support their students going beyond the typical classroom walls?
- What modifications do I need to make in my teaching in order to ensure that this type of learning is effective?
- How do I maintain an effective balance so students develop a healthy online presence but do not neglect face-to-face connections and the experience of hands-on-learning?
Question 4 is the one that perplexes me most. For example, I could very well create a digital learning experience for my students on dairy-farming by setting up a Skype conference with my relatives in the field and blogs to capture their thinking. However, how does this experience compare to students actually going to a farm and experiencing the process of farming hands-on? Or does educational technology function best as a compliment to rather than a substitution for hands-on-learning? Or do we need to rethink entirely how we view and use educational technology because as Christenson and Horn suggest in Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education is the Future
“Schools have done what virtually every organization does when implementing an innovation. An organization’s natural instinct is to cram the innovation into its existing operating model to sustain what it already does. This is perfectly predictable, perfectly logical – and perfectly wrong.”
I don’t have definitive answers for these questions, but they will help guide me along the journey toward the continued improvement of my teaching practice. Will Richardson poses many of the same questions in his article. However, he does not provide any answers; instead he provides a model for teachers to become connectors and offers suggestions to help begin their journey to find the answers that best work for them in their situation. Both of the sites provided by the author encourage people to connect and share with others. Perhaps as Dean Shareski suggests in his video for the K-12 Online Conference 2010, the first steps toward furthering understanding and getting involved are not only taking the risk to connect with other educators around world but also to be willing to share my thoughts and ideas with them.
When I first found out that part of the course requirements included keeping a blog, I thought that it was a great idea but that I would only use it for specifically course related entries. This article has inspired me to modify how I view this blog and include in it my own musings about education in general. Not only that but also to include some examples of work that I have done with my class (as I begin the process I will be putting up resources for people to use and critique). I invite people to read and to offer their suggestions. As Ewan McIntosh said:
I look forward to working with everyone in the class and learning from each person’s thoughts and ideas.
Image Sources, Creative Commons, found on Flickr
/ponder by striatic
Sharing ideas by festivalslab