Teachers know that the classroom is a complex ecosystem and that they constantly draw from the best of various models at any given moment in their teaching in order to tailor instruction to the needs of their students; plus, many models overlap to the point that teachers could be adhering to several of them simultaneously. Hence, the concept of “Connected Learning” is just but another school of thought for educators to consider.
The principles of Connected Learning ought to be discussed with classroom teachers as the model often gravitates to informal learning spaces in order to avoid the constraints of classroom learning. As Antero Garcia notes in the introduction to the aforementioned eBook, “Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom”: “While connected learning principles are seen flourishing in out-of-school spaces, there are fewer articulations of how connected learning can help inspire and shift existing teacher practices”.
In that spirit, Ms Nicole Mirra had shared some of the activities that she had done with a group of amazing teacher leaders from the UCLA Writing Project during their summer institute in the hope that others can share the ways that they have applied Connected Learning principles to the classroom space.
The National Writing Project believes that teachers of writing must be given the opportunity to write themselves, so Ms Mirra began her 90 minutes with the 16 educators by asking them to consider a quote by Herman Melville (“A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men . . .”) and respond to the following prompt: “What does it mean to be connected? Who/what are you connected to?” It was found to be useful to stress the importance of connections in our own lives as a springboard for thinking about the crucial importance of connections in creating powerful learning experiences for young people.
Here are some of the teachers’ responses:
To be connected means sharing a common experience, a thought or feeling. I am connected to physical things like members of my family, friends and colleagues but I am also connected to intangible things like feelings and emotions that could either be felt by my or shared with another person. Not like Facebook connected but really connected.
Being connected means to be interrelated and independent. You are connected to family because they help you and vice versa. You are related to each person differently but yet still a family. It means that nothing is isolated or alone. Nothing exists or came into being on its own.
Ms Mirra had used these pieces of writing to transition into an exploration of Connected Learning as defined by the Connected Learning Alliance itself, stressing the fact that they had already discovered its essence through their writing. Because she knows that in any room of teachers, she will find huge variation in comfort with technology and she wanted to highlight the point that Connected Learning is not about the “shiny devices” as her fellow Connected Learning Ambassador Bud Hunt puts it, but about the learner — devices simply give us a new set of tools that we can use to facilitate the connection that we want to encourage between young people.
Below is a sampling of the hurdles that teachers are negotiating as they work on making their learning more connected:
•Misunderstanding of technology by administrators/teachers as a purely recreational tool
•Teacher discomfort with using technology themselves/fear of messing up
•Pressures of curriculum that prevent extended project-based learning
•Teacher workload that makes it difficult to organize community networking
•Overcoming zero tolerance policies regarding student cell phones/devices
•Malfunctioning Internet infrastructure
Importantly, the teachers did not list these barriers as a way of opting out of integrating more Connected Learning principles into their instruction; instead, they voiced the barriers as the first step to finding ways to skirt or overcome them.
As one of the efforts meted out for the Connected Learning project, a new media site, Popplet, which allowed teachers to create mind maps while adding a new tool to their repertoires was created. Check out some of the Popplets below (all works in progress, of course) and consider ways that you can help support classroom teachers as they strive to make their work more connected.