Sunday, September 28, 2008

Through a different lens --- that of shades of grey CCK08

Perhaps a reflection of my age and the shades of grey in my hair, I seem to see the world through a bit of a different lens at times— everything is not black or white anymore, but various shades of grey. That’s not to say my “black and white” lens is packed in the back of the closet or deposited in the trash, just that it doesn’t seem an appropriate one for me for these circumstances. Given some of the passionate conversations around connectivism, “shades of grey” is a lens which is used infrequently by others; however, I find it serves me well as I attempt to filter and then synthesize the bits and pieces from this networked learning that might best serve youngsters learning and living in today’s world. I’m struck by statements that emphasize rightness and wrongness, the lack of wondering about potential bits of possibilities, and the dismissal of new frames for thought especially when considering-- at this point in the course-- the appropriateness of connected learning in K-12 (a North American term I realize).

I am, like others, seeking early on in our learning to attempt apply the concepts of connectivism to daily practice. As others have noted:
"I currently instruct Grade 7/8 Science and Math (and have taught High School Biology 30) and would not negotiate with my class what we are going to learn, there are groups and age levels that require/crave/demand structure even though they fight it at every step (Middle School is one of those times). I have asked repeatedly in many forums what are appropriate age levels for these theories, and have never gotten a straight answer..
At the K-12 level I can only see the most dedicated learners blossoming in this approach and more applications at the University level. However this approach also makes another assumption, that the knowledge guider is knowledgeable enough in their
field to allow this approach. At the K-12 level could you say this is true, could you say in any profession that all are experts, NO. -- Where Old Meets Now
"I don't yet believe that it will be the one and only solution to revolutionise education. I can already picture schools letting their students loose on the net to find their own PLEs and PLNs, but what they learn and understand is another question. More and more, I think that connectivism is a good way to learn in small doses. Yet, young people especially still need some face2face interaction, too. They need guidance about critical thinking, media literacy and focused reflection- I don't believe they will just 'get it'." --Sinikkaprojects
"You cannot empower learners and encourage them to seize hold of their own learning experiences while at the same time controlling what they learn, how they interact, who they listen to, the networks they form, the way they are exposed to the information, and the time frame in which they are expected to learn it. You can’t both give away control and keep it at the same time." --Tech Ticker
"By focusing on the formal aspects of learning such as course curriculum, learning outcomes, assessment and the like we place the highly personalised and locally contextualised notions of Connectivism within a highly structured, top-down, hierarchical framework of formal education.

It's of little surprise then, I think, that we're seeing so many stumbling points. To a large degree the two are out of phase with one another.

Especially given the point you mentioned about "externally-imposed testing routines", and teacher performance review (which I don't think mentioned) - the practical aspects of Connectivism in formal education will have to consider the local culture - including requirements, accountabilities, and learner (and parent) expectations.

As with most theories, I think Connectivism provides an ideal, or a mindset, that can inform practice - but I definitely don't think it dictates it.

So as far formal education is concerned, what Connectivism does is provide a new way of looking at learning that - along with other learning theories - can be rolled into plans that address the local needs of the community of learners." --Mike Bogle

I’m not finding the same stumbling points—-perhaps due to my lens or perspective-- or maybe because of the window I’ve had into Clarence Fisher’s classroom through his blog, a window open for you as well in which he shares how he nurtures his middle grades students and guides them in their connected learning, despite “highly structured, top-down, hierarchical framework of formal education.”
I wonder if the pedagogy and ideas in the posts linked below couldn’t be considered snapshots of connected learning by young adolescents?
“Thinwalls is the idea of moving beyond the short term international project. A thinwalled classroom is a space that is connected with another (or possibly several others) over the long term. Our concept was to put our kids in contact every single day across the entire school year. While we faltered some in the middle of the year, for the most part, we were successful. We used blogs and wikis. We used video and audio Skype. We used moodle and voice thread, instant messengers, presentation software and more. If we found a tool we thought would be useful, we introduced it to the kids and threw things up against the wall, seeing what would stick. We poured over each other's curriculum documents, got mad at each other and had our kids frustrated with things that broke down. We did not allow "the Moodle was down" to be an excuse. The kids had to have alternate plans, workarounds, and backchannels in place.” --Thinwalls planning
"Start off the year's readings with a shared iGoogle tab - I keep a tab with just a few blogs on it that I want kids to read. These are what I call "required reading" and often stand in as our textbook. I've only chosen a few as I don't want to overwhelm kids with information. Currently sitting on this tab for the beginning of the school year are the Nata Village blog,, Jan Chipchase's Future Perfect, Afrigadget, and Dvice. I've chosen all of these blogs for their currency, their global outlook and their interest. As well, Each student in my class will subscribe to the feed from at least one country and one topic of their own choice from globalvoicesonline." --Global Lives Unit One
"Relatively speaking, students have few feeds to look after. Typically I will give them four of five to begin and ask them to locate another five or six bring them to a total of approximately ten. Using iGoogle, these can be quickly organized into several tabs that might be titled "required reading" and "student bloggers." Students can flip between these two tabs, seeing, at - a - glance, what is new in both of these areas. As well, when needed, they can add more tabs focused on a specific project that will showcase all of the information they will need." --Personal homepages
"But in a 1:1 classroom, students could gain the same benefit from Twitter that I do as a hyperconnected professional. Think of a 1:1 classroom that is hooked up with one (or more) other classes located somewhere else on the globe and each of these students having subscribed to the Twitter feeds of the students in other classrooms. These classrooms could function as a single learning unit even though they could be separated by thousands of miles geographically. Now imagine these classrooms working on a single project or novel together. Students could pose questions on Twitter about the novel they are reading. They could ask for help on projects. They could post what they are currently working on in order to keep group members informed of their progress. It would draw students much closer together and keep each other deeply informed of questions, concerns, and thoughts they have, something that is often a struggle in international projects." --Twitter in the classroom
"This year I'm starting off the year with having the kids look at the required outcomes for the ELA (english language arts) curriculum. There are a whole lot of them and I've decided to start with this one document since it is the one I am most comfortable with. I have placed all of the outcomes onto a spreadsheet, and in the fall I plan on having small groups of kids take one or two outcomes, write it up in kid friendly language, make up a rubric for assessing this outcome and then make a work sample that would meet it. Once all of this documentation has been produced, it will all be assembled into a binder which kids can access.

But this is all background work. The purpose of it is to give kids choice about what they are learning. For example, if we are doing a unit on present day societal issues, at the beginning of this unit, I plan on having the kids choose possibly four or five of these outcomes that they want to pursue over the unit. They will then have to collect evidence and conference with me, showing me they have met the outcome. By years end, they should have spreadsheet that shows they have completed all of the outcomes. Done on a Google spreadsheet, we will be able to see its revision history, make comments on it, etc." -- The things I carry
"I believe that in a networked classroom, assessment needs to be ongoing and take multiple forms (as we've been hearing for years), but needs to be concerned with different things than in the past. We also need to think about the network's contribution to the final products that are set before us. We need to think about the validity of information sources and challenge our students to make their thinking visible and sound. We also need to acknowledge the fact that at least part of the idea "proudly found elsewhere" is realistic and OK." --Social Networks
But over the last few months, I've noticed the kids in my class have made a dramatic move to Google docs. Using Google docs they can work at school or at home much more easily. But they are moving there for other reasons as well, the biggest one being that they can simply share their work with me and with other kids in the class. For example, my students are currently writing a short, one page essay on a topic of their choice to do with life in ancient Egypt. They've chosen a wide variety of topics ranging from the Nile to make - up and dress, boats, farming techniques, and much more. I keep the formal essays that they need to write short, being much more interested in having students learn to write a set of coherent paragraphs and an interesting introduction and conclusion than I am in quantity. It's not hard to write lots. It's hard to write well.

But with these pieces, these students are more often sharing them with me so that I can help them with revisions and specific paragraphs. They will share their document with me so that I can write suggestions and ideas for them and then save them for them. The same is true among each other. As students have been working on topics that may occasionally overlap ("What kind of clothing did the farmers wear?") students are sharing their pieces with each other. I don't consider this to be wrong or plagarism of any sort. I consider this to be knowledge networking and making use of the resources n the classroom. It's called learning from each other. --Google Docs
"We are used to working with the kids in our classrooms and worrying about today and next week. But the organizational skills required to ensure tools are in place and working, time is scheduled for planning for both teachers and students, that the steps to success are clear, and that contingency plans have been made to support students who struggle with not only the content, but with the networking and collaborative components takes us into whole other levels where teachers are often not used to being. It is teacher as network administrator, but also teacher as human resources manager and teacher as workflow consultant." -- Tech Skills
"While I foresaw my students making their own pages instead of having to subscribe to a single pre- made page coming from me, I liked this idea, more for networks of learners that my students might find themselves involved in more then me pushing something onto them.

Which is why I was happy to see that iGoogle homepages now have the ability to share an entire tab with someone just by entering their email address. Similar to sharing a document using Google docs, you simply enter an email address and the invitation is sent off.

With this, I can see students who are working on projects with other kids across the globe constructing a tab and then sharing resources they have found with other network members in other places. An invitation could also be sent to the teacher to watch everything the kids are watching. Easy and valuable." --Igoogle
I just happen to think this is pretty exciting; don't you?


Anonymous said...

Nice the shades of gray image. In my post on danger of dichotomizations I whished to remark, with a copule of very specific examples, what you have explained much better in the context of education.

I'm going to print your post because it is very interesting and I need to study it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, couple of experiments, of course ... :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh boys, I'm drunk ... I wished ... and ... couple of examples ... :-D

Anonymous said...

Great post Lani,

In hindsight I was perhaps being a bit too dramatic when I said "You cannot empower learners and encourage them to seize hold of their own learning experiences" while controlling what they learn.

I agree that seeing in shades of grey is very important - for me to imply that you can't empower learners at all in more controlled environments really isn't accurate.

Yes there are constraints put on how formal education is conducted in the classroom, but educators have a lot of say in how things are implemented. Based on the examples you sited in this post, there are some very creative, very inspiring instructors out there - and that's fantastic to see.

I'm personally at a bit of a disadvantage in that respect because I do not directly interact with students - I'm an eLearning Researcher. Among other things I help instructors explore the possibilities, but I don't get many opportunities to see it actually implemented in practice (which is a bummer).

Stories like the ones you quoted really make my day because it shows that not only instructors are exploring the opportunities of new media, students are engaging with it and appear to be thriving in this environment.

Thanks for the links!

Cheers, Mike

Anonymous said...

I have to come again here, because the work with kids described in
Remote Access is very similar, mutatis mutandis, to what I'm trying to do in my computer- web2-literacy classrooms of 20 years old students.

For instance, as far as grading blogs is concerned, in June I wrote a post Come procedo per dare i voti nella blogoclasse which in English sounds How do I grade in the blogroom. Oh, really interesting and useful to see similar experiences!

Thank you very much!