Learning through connections


This morning I had the privilege of joining a panel to present on the theme of modern learning practice in a connected world as a part of the Connected Educator Month here in NZ. Joining me on the panel was a very old friend from the UK, Stephen Heppell and colleagues from CORE, Mark Osborne, Janelle Riki and in the chair, Karen Melhuish Spencer. 

In this post I don't intent unpacking what was said or the ideas that were discussed – if you want to know that then the recording is available here and the thoughts of the participants are captured in a shared Google Doc here and on Twitter here on #cenz14. All has been captured in Storify by Marnel van der Spuy.

What this experience very powerfully demonstrated to me is the principle of learning in a connected world. With an hour together online, a handful of 'presenters' and a few dozen participants all active in the back-channels, there was an extraordinary level of communication and ideas generated through the questions asked and responses given etc. – a true knowledge building community emerging. In reflecting on this, there were three dimensions of the knowledge building experience that I observed that I think may be worth considering when designing and planning for the learning experiences we provide (online and face to face) for our students:

Capturing the soundbites

As the presenters were sharing their ideas in the session there was a constant stream of 'soundbites' being captured and shared via the chat facility in the Adobe Connect environment we were using. Each of these represented the key idea or important concept captured by an individual participant – and collectively, they represent the key messages of the experience, there for everyone to review and construct their own memory of the event from. 

Imagine if we had this sort of facility in our classrooms – where we were intentially capturing the ideas that are regarded as significant in the minds of each learner – and see them shared in this way so that what escaped the attention of one, is picked up by another etc. Seems to me there's something quite powerful in recognising and understanding the usefulness of this activity in the knowledge building process – recognising of course that it's a part of the process, and that there's a lot of revisiting, filtering and connecting of ideas that will need to occur  yet. But at least it is captured – and accessible in a way that previously we've missed out on in our classrooms. 

Co-constructing the knowledge base

The Google Doc provides a different level of engagement. Here we saw the knowledge base grow before our eyes during the presentation – and it continues to grow and develop afterwards as there are people active in it even as I am writing this post, editing and playing with the format etc. 

The level of engagement here goes beyond the simple soundbites (although these are recorded at the bottom of the document) – and makes lots of use of the links that were shared during the presentation to add substance and value to the soundbites used – offering opporutunities to dig deeper into the concepts and ideas. The Google Doc also remains as an archive of the event and the knowledge shared within it. 

This is a strategy that we're certainly seeing deployed in some schools – but there's room for far more of it! The ability of learners to use an online environment that is accessible from anywhere and at any time to share ideas and co-construct knowledge in this way must certainly come to feature as a 'must have' in the repertoire of any modern teacher. 

Challenging the ideas

I also saw the start of some thinking that represents the metacognitive engagement – where questions were being asked in response to something that was said by a presenter, or where such thoughts or 'sound bites' stimulated another level of thinking in a participant. The use of the backchannels to immediately enable people to deal with the questions they have or dilemmas in their thinking is extremely powerful to the learning process – particularly as they are able to be responded to by the community, and not wait in line for the presenter to respond. 

A counter to this is often cited from some who see this sort of activity as a distraction – preferring that everyone focuses on what the presenter/teacher is saying. I concur that it can be a distraction – but I also believe that dealing with distraction and making the right choices about when and when not to engage in such activity is a part of learning to manage self – an important skill for our modern learners and teachers. The fact is that for many, having the question buzzing around in your head as a result of something the presenter says can be a distraction in itself, and creates a 'block' to full engagement until it has been answered or responded to. 

So my point is that the CEM experience this morning has powerfully reinforced for me again the need for us to consider, plan for and embrace the multi-dimensional experience that learning can and should be in (and out of) our classrooms. 

If you aren't already connected – take a look at the variety of events and opportunities that are yet to come through the rest of October in Connected Educator Month.  if searching the calendar of events isn't your thing, you can sign up fo regular updates.

One thought on “Learning through connections

  1. Great post, led me to that wonderful CEM presentation (and the embedded discussions within the chat, and shared doc). I am just stepping into the connected Edu world, so your last thoughts resonate…I need to consider, plan for and embrace CENZ14, and use it is a launchpad for myself. Cheers

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