Tagged “Voices”

Andrew Miller

Building Student Capacity in the Middle Grades

Project-based learning (PBL) is being embraced by schools nationally and across grade levels. Educators know that each grade level comes with its challenges as students are in a variety of developmental levels and abilities. However, through practicing 21st century skills in a PBL environment, students can build their social, emotional, and cognitive capacity. 

Because the middle grades are a paradigm shift for most students, middle-grades teachers are presented with an exciting opportunity to engage 21st century learners, but they also need to keep in mind that these students need unique scaffolding.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

College, Career, and Citizenship-ABLE

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Alseta Gholston

Any time a societal transformation has occurred, young people have almost always been the driving force to bring about revolutionary change. Whether one looks at recent events in North Africa and the Middle East, at our own history in the United States through the Civil Rights Era, Otpor's toppling of a Serbian dictator in 2000, or the past anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa, the common thread that ties movements for social and political change are that youth at all ages are at the center energizing the popular call for civic justice. Young people have always been capable and effective in upsetting the status quo whether positively or negatively. When we don't provide structures that make them feel connected, involved, trusted, and respected in the making of society or community, we sometimes risk alienating and disengaging them and producing conditions that we consider as putting kids "at risk." It's this vision for change, idealism, and energy that children, adolescents, and young adults possess that can be awakened, harnessed, and positively directed to not only make learning alive and relevant for students, but also firmly link educational preparation for future outcomes to students' current lives, purposes, and goals.

It is quite common to expect that the purpose of our education system is to prepare students for the workforce by transmitting a set of knowledge, skills, and credentials that will enable them in the future to be productive within our economic system. Now, as we tack on citizenship readiness to this purpose, we run the risk of implying that citizenship, or youth participation in civic action, is something for the future. While we do want each child to graduate high school fully able and prepared to go to college, embark on a career, enlist in the military, and be an active citizen, we also want to ensure that students are connecting these objectives to their present lives and circumstances.

Civic education, financial literacy, health awareness and promotion, and education for entrepreneurship, for example, provide a hands-on framework that makes learning relevant, current, and centered on the student's interests and needs, and provide tangible outcomes that extend beyond the school walls or even the school year. These practical learning experiences have to connect to the stories relayed in history and current events, the inquiry and fact-finding skills of science and math, or the creative expression in literature and art, so that learners become more invested in their education, are able to see how it affects them in the present, and become inspired to take part in their own personal development and enhancement.

Examples of schools that are using this approach to developing students' capacities for social advocacy and community involvement are Northport High School in Northport, N.Y., and West Village Magnet School in Bend, Ore. These schools demonstrate how developing student voice is a significant part of the school culture and is being transplanted into the larger community. The students at these schools already understand the importance of their roles in creating the communities in which they take part in and receive support and facilitation through essential student-teacher relationships.

At West Village, students' passions and personal learning goals are integrated into the curriculum. One year, students learned about environmental and social issues, then held a community fair on sustainability where they presented various community-wide projects ranging from teaching water conservation to holding a Pennies for Peace drive. Some students still continue working on these projects long-term and local organizations have asked them to participate in their own outreach efforts.

Similarly, at Northport, young people have many opportunities to be active leaders for social justice in the community. Students for 60,000 is a student organization that provides humanitarian assistance to those in need. Projects have included feeding and clothing the poor or homeless locally and internationally and teaching English to recent immigrants in their town. Also, members of A Mid-winter Night's Dream, another student club, have testified before Congress on issues related to ALS disease. These students have been able to conduct research alongside scientists and have raised over $1.5 million dollars in seven years in order to support patients with ALS and further research.

In any movement for change, be it from the school level to the international level, it is important to recognize and guide the fresh perspectives and ideas of young people and ensure they know the social and political power they possess as individuals and as a collective. In doing so, we must empower them to understand their rights, responsibilities, capabilities, and opportunities to have just as much powerful input into their educational and civic experiences today as they will tomorrow.

Andrew Miller

PBL is Career, College, and "Now" Ready

Project-based learning (PBL) is rightfully touted as a way not only to create engagement in the classroom, but also to prepare students for their lives once they leave the confines of our classrooms. When given an authentic task to complete that is aligned to standards, students engage in an inquiry process, both as a team and individually, to innovate a solution. The task creates engagement in learning content and also 21st century skills. But let's cut to the chase and see exactly what about PBL aligns to aspects of being career and college ready.

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Klea Scharberg

Preparing Students for a Global Future

At a time when globalization and technology are dramatically altering the world we live in, is education reform in the United States headed down the right path? Are schools emphasizing the knowledge and skills that students need in a global society—or are schools actually undermining students' strengths by overemphasizing high-stakes testing and standardization? Are education systems in China and other countries really as superior as some people claim?

Explore these questions in this talk with Yong Zhao, author of Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. Born and raised in China and now a distinguished professor at Michigan State University, Zhao bases many of his observations on firsthand experience as a student in China and as a parent of children attending school in the United States. His unique perspective leads him to conclude that "American education is at a crossroads" and "we need to change course" to maintain leadership in a rapidly changing world.

As you listen and browse the book, consider the following questions alone or with colleagues at your school.

  1. What are the traditional strengths in terms of education, culture, and economy in your community?
  2. What is unique about your community, or what do you have that others do not have in your community? What can you do better than others?
  3. How do you preserve creativity and protect individual passions in students?
  4. Can we have both standards and individual creativity?

Find more from Zhao and others in this issue of ASCD Express on approaches to education that will help students lead and succeed in the global age.

Klea Scharberg

Geoff Fletcher on Becoming an Effective Teacher

More than a decade into the 21st century, we continue to face education challenges from the last century. To move forward, we must develop knowledgeable learners equipped with the necessary academic, technological, social, and economic skills to compete in the global community.

The ASCD 2011 Annual Conference in San Francisco, Calif., March 26–28, 2011, will engage participants in dynamic, diverse dialogues that lead to bold actions to address the challenges of learning, teaching, and leading.

In this video, featured conference presenter Geoff Fletcher reminds educators to think about their students' perspective when planning lessons.

Think about the kids' perspective. Get as much knowledge about the kids as possible. And, again, today with all the data we have available, from all the different capabilities of gathering information, we should know a lot more about kids then I knew [on my first day of teaching]. And, hopefully more teachers are much more in tune with the students than I was that first day, not even realizing, even looking at them, how different it was for them than it was for me.

Geoff Fletcher is senior director for strategic initiatives and communications with the State Technology Directors Association (SETDA). Prior to joining SETDA, Fletcher was editorial director for the Education Group of 1105 Media, Inc., and served with the Texas Education Agency for 11 years in various positions, including assistant commissioner with responsibility for standards and curriculum, the statewide assessment program, educational technology initiatives, textbooks, and professional development.

Klea Scharberg

Linda Nathan on Having Access to Educational Opportunities

More than a decade into the 21st century, we continue to face education challenges from the last century. To move forward, we must develop knowledgeable learners equipped with the necessary academic, technological, social, and economic skills to compete in the global community.

The ASCD 2011 Annual Conference in San Francisco, Calif., March 26–28, 2011, will engage participants in dynamic, diverse dialogues that lead to bold actions to address the challenges of learning, teaching, and leading.

In this video, author and Urban Education panelist Linda Nathan recalls one student's experience and her own frustration at missing details that ultimately cost her student the educational opportunity of a lifetime.

I'm in a world where those questions don't even come up—not for me, not for my children, my own children—but for all my other children, I have to constantly think about "What piece of this puzzle am I missing that is going to deny someone an opportunity?" ... I can't be finished here until I can make sure that my students have the kind of access that my own biological children have.

Linda Nathan is the founding headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy, the city's first and only public high school for the visual and performing arts. Connect with Nathan on her blog and on Twitter @lindanathan.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

The True Promise of Technology

Chris Lehmann

Post submitted by Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, Pa. Connect with Lehmann on his blog, Practical Theory, and on Twitter @chrislehmann.

 

"Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission."

—Eleanor Roosevelt

 

There has been, over the past decade, an increasing trend to push technology into schools. Everyone, it seems, knows that kids should use computers in schools, but we don't often ask why. Larry Cuban, among others, has written a great deal about how technology in our school has failed to reach its promise. Schools have spent millions of dollars on computer labs and interactive whiteboards to find new ways to do many of the things that schools have always done.

And today, many people are arguing how technology and "online learning" can transform student learning so that kids can learn from anywhere. But kids have learned everywhere for generations. What online learning can do is recreate the construct of a classroom anywhere, anytime.

And we wonder why we have not seen technology truly revolutionize education.

The true promise of technology does not lie in being able to reproduce—in shinier ways—the things schools have always done. If all we can imagine is how technology can "deliver instruction" in new ways, we will forever be limited by our own lack of vision. What technology can allow us to do is to realize the promise of many of our best ideas of progressive education. It can allow students to inquire, collaborate, and connect in ways that allow us to realize the promise of John Dewey's dream. Moreover, it allows students and teachers to see themselves as real people, defined not just by the power dynamic of the classroom, but through the social networks that should and will and must cross.

Technology Can Realize Dewey's Dream

For years, teachers have worked with students to help students learn to construct knowledge through project-based learning and the creation of authentic artifacts of learning. But the tools we had at our disposal made student creation more difficult and time-consuming, and the tools often lagged far behind what a professional would use. (I remember the times in my career as a student when they didn't.) It was what made shop class so incredible. We were using the real tools ... even if I made what might be the worst birdhouse in history. Today, the tools at our students' disposal allow them seek out the answers to their questions and then create powerful artifacts of learning that can be as polished as what a professional might create. And once they have created their work, they can share with the world. The progressive educational idea of the exposition can be ongoing and can extend far beyond the walls of the classroom and the school to the world at large.

Technology Can Humanize Us

There is incredible debate right now about whether or not we should let students friend us on Facebook ... or if we should follow students on Twitter. I am not naive enough to not understand the issues around it. However, at root, what social media can allow us to do is to see a much greater range of each other's human existence. When teachers and students can see themselves as more fully developed people, we can relate better in the classroom. When we know more about each other's lives, it is that much harder to create that sense of "otherness" which can poison a classroom. We should not run from the opportunity to see each other for the whole people we are.

Networking Can Change the World

2011 may well be the year that social media grew up and became a force in the world. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we allowed our students to be a part of the global change we see around us? Right now, we are at a moment in time when the echoing voices of every people are affecting change all over the globe. In that moment, how can we continue the soft illusion that learning is contained solely in a classroom? Why would we? When we help our students develop their expert voices for the world, who knows what they can build, create, and change? When students' voices live in the world, they can both change that world and be changed by it. We have an obligation to let them try.

For years in our schools, teachers have told students that school is preparation for real life—a statement that divorced the meaning of school from the lives kids led in that moment. With the research, creation, and networking tools at our disposal, we have the ability to help students see that the lives they lead now have meaning and value, and that school can be a vital and vibrant part of that meaning. We can help students to see the powerful humanity that exists both within them and all around them. And technology can be an essential piece of how we teach and learn about that.

Don't we have the moral obligation to try?

Photo credit: Emma Hohenstein, Science Leadership Academy junior

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Learning and the Jungonauts

Susan Ballard

Post submitted by Susan Ballard, director of library media and technology services for the Londonderry (N.H.) School District, chair of Whole Child Partner the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards and Guidelines Implementation Task Force, and an emerging Jungonaut.

Some years ago, during a presentation, I mentioned the Descartian observation: Cogito, ergo sum, or "I think, therefore I am." When break time came, one of the attendees shared his version for the Internet age: Jungo, ergo sum, or "I link, therefore I am." This really struck a chord with me. Upon arrival home, I printed up a sign and slapped it on the side of my trusty computer as a reminder of the power of connectivity.

When I first heard the phrase, I thought of the "link" only as hardware, infrastructure, and files, but today I see how Jungo, ergo sum perfectly describes students who interact with ideas, information, and one another through immediate access to digital content, social networking, and virtual spaces. And because of this phenomenon, like the mariners of mythology, Jason and the Argonauts, we find ourselves and our students setting out on a new voyage of discovery. We are linked, connected, and joined up in an adventure of uncertainties and possibilities presented by the digital age.

From our perspective as school librarians, highly qualified to navigate the sea of information in all formats, to organize and manage delivery to the end-user, and provide instruction in the effective, efficient, and ethical use of resources, we struggle to make the best choices. To keep up and do the right thing, we familiarize ourselves with research and best practices. We read professional literature and participate in electronic discussion lists, wikis, and webinars. We attend face-to-face professional development opportunities. We set up RSS readers to ensure we don't miss anything on a must-read blog or from a favorite news service. We design our library websites to make them relevant and interesting. We use every means to keep abreast of developments and stay on course. But just when we seem to have a sense of direction and an idea of where to head, something new comes along that alters the learning compass.

When this happens, I reach for a set of navigational charts to guide me. AASL's Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs, and Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action set my course and direction. It is no accident that we have branded our implementation of them as Learning4Life (L4L), as that is what we are striving to achieve.

From their perspective, 21st-century students are likely to throw caution to the wind and sail straight ahead without second-guessing a device, service, site, or an app. We marvel at their lack of temerity and defiance of hazards that we regularly anticipate and plan for. "Watch out," we caution them. "Dangers are lurking, and here there be monsters." To which they seem to retort, "This is how we learn—by doing, by experiencing, by reaching out to the crowd and participating! What's wrong with that?" Truth be told, we don't appear to have an answer, other than we are concerned for their safety and their wallets. But perhaps by trying to reconcile our experience with our students' natural curiosity, and their growing expertise in using technology and social media, we may find common cause. We must meet them where they are and share our knowledge and wisdom to convince them that they really do need to be cautious at times, to be strategic in how they use today's incredible resources. We can help young people make those resources work for them while spending their time and money wisely.

Connecting with the connected means consideration of where 21st-century students learn. They are not so much place-based as virtual-space-based. They learn everywhere. We need to understand their comfort zones and new habitats, and remain connected ourselves. We are not the only ones asking them to pay attention in class anymore. We have serious competition 24/7 from the virtual world-at-large.

So how do we embed the concepts that L4L represents into students' consciousness? Connecting our services and the global knowledge economy with students offers many challenges, but we have incredible multi-modality tools available to help them access the curriculum and to individualize and transform the learning experience.

There is still a compelling a need for us to travel with and alongside these intrepid Jungonauts, and ensure they complete their quest, find their own personal Golden Fleece and achieve their goals. It is our role as skillful navigators of the education and information world to help them make necessary course corrections on their voyage. Through L4L, AASL is committed to ensuring that learners develop the skills, dispositions, responsibilities, and self-assessment strategies needed to ensure they are learning for life and reach their full potential.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Laptops, Work, and Students

Pamela Livingston

Post submitted by Pamela Livingston, product manager of OnDemand PD at Tutor.com, author, and adjunct professor at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Livingston has spent seventeen years directing education technology programs and helping teachers integrate technology at public, private, and charter schools. Connect with Livingston on her blog, 1-to-1 Learning, and on Twitter @plivings.

Like many of us, I sometimes go to a gathering and meet people for the first time. Here's paraphrased dialogue from one such event.

Person in business attire: "What do you do?"

Me: "I help schools with 1-to-1 laptop programs for students."

Person (laughing): "You mean laptops for KIDS? Really? For KIDS?"

Me: "Yes, that's right. Do you use a computer in your profession?"

Person: "Yes."

Me: "To access this computer, do you walk to another area of the building to sign up for a 40-minute session and then leave the computer for the next person—and hope all your stuff is accessible after and that you remembered to print your work?"

Person (laughing): "No."

Me: "Is that computer rolled to your office on a cart that is shared with other departments and which sometimes has all working computers but sometimes is booked by other departments or has mostly broken computers?"

Person: "No of course not."

Me: "Is that computer also used by two or three others at your job?"

Person: "No, I don't share my computer at all. It's mine all the time. But ... that's because I have WORK to do."

Me: "Exactly! That is why I help schools with 1-to-1 laptop programs for students! One student using one laptop, not shared, available for the work they need to do, with all the resources required and their own documents and projects, to use at school and at home."

There is a dichotomy that exists for some between what "kids" do at school and what is "real work." Yet why isn't what happens in school considered real work by some? As a teacher and as a parent, I know there is much learning to be done for students as they move through kindergarten to 12th grade. Learning math, English, science, social studies, and languages takes time, effort and hard work.

Imagine shadowing a middle school student from class-to-class, being exposed to varied subjects, teachers, textbooks, approaches to instruction, assessments, lessons, and activities. Now imagine doing all this with a pen and notebook or binder to take notes and collect handouts and papers given by each teacher. You also have to keep track of homework and tests and project deadlines. Then at the end of the day you may have sports, perhaps music lessons or time with friends, dinner, and homework. And you have to get enough sleep to be up and ready, with all the papers and materials stuffed into your oversized backpack filled with textbooks for the trip back to school where it all begins again. Which students thrive in this environment? It would seem that the students who can work with paper, are organized, take good notes, pay attention, and can call up the information they learned for the test or project are the ones who succeed.

Reframe this now and imagine moving from class-to-class of different subjects, teachers, and varying assessments, lessons, and activities—but this time you have a laptop or tablet and so does the teacher. Your lessons and projects have an electronic component in that the material can be downloaded and viewed later. You have a better method of taking notes because the laptop or tablet allows you to type or write and there are tools you can use to search or organize your notes. Many of your textbooks are on your laptop and have links to updated websites where you can see information newer than the textbook publish date. There is an electronic learning community for communication with other students and your teachers. You can send your work directly to your teachers and they can comment on your work and send it back. You can view upcoming assignments, projects, tests, and deadlines in all of your classes. And all this is done on your very own, unshared computer, personalized and organized by you, packed with the resources you need, available from home or school or anywhere in between. Which students thrive in this environment? I propose more than in the paper-and-textbook environment because they are able to customize their learning and choose the right tools for work and because the device with their multiple electronic resources as well as their own files is at their fingertips at school or at home.

Of course this means the school has made a teaching and learning shift to ensure that laptops are not just an add-on, viewed as an option when there are "laptop projects" and put away for "real schoolwork." It means that educators have their own laptops and are provided enough time and professional development to develop and hone projects and assignments that maximize the use of laptops in their classrooms. It requires educators and leaders with vision and the drive to help their school or district accomplish this new dynamic; committed to empowering their teachers and students; and providing resources, time, and funding for sustainability. It means rethinking assignments so they are not just about regurgitating information, but also about synthesizing information, solving problems, and creating new ideas. The school technology and the technology staff must be solid in terms of infrastructure and day-to-day support.

I didn't ask that person in business attire about using notebooks, pens, and paper to keep track of ideas and how to organize—there is likely some use of these tools—but notebooks, pens, and paper are not collaborative vehicles. And today's businesses are all about collaboration, joint problem-solving, cross-departmental teams, adherence to goals and deadlines—elements that require electronic tools for sharing, communicating, creating, publishing, and presenting.

It's my opinion that providing a laptop or tablet to children helps them create better work, become more engaged with school, and allows them to learn an important foundation for their future academic and career goals. Thoughtful parents and teachers know their overarching goal is to launch children into life equipped with understanding, skills, and knowledge for the path their students will choose. I feel providing laptops or tablets provides the solid footing into the next phase of learning or work needed by children and is worth the time and investment for their future—and ours.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Remote Access

Will Richardson

Post submitted by Will Richardson, author and advocate for school reform that encourages integration of technology in learning. Connect with Richardson on his blog, Weblogg-ed, and on Twitter @willrich45.

Seventh/eighth grade teacher Clarence Fisher has an interesting way of describing his classroom up in Snow Lake, Manitoba. As he tells it, it has "thin walls," meaning that despite being eight hours north of the nearest metropolitan airport, his students are getting out into the world on a regular basis, using the Web to connect and collaborate with students in far flung places from around the globe. The name of Clarence's blog, "Remote Access," sums up nicely the opportunities that his students have in their networked classroom.

"Learning is only as powerful as the network it occurs in," Clarence says. "No doubt, there is still value in the learning that occurs between teachers and students in classrooms. But the power of that learning is more solid and more relevant at the end of the day if the networks and the connections are larger."

Without question, Clarence imbues the notion of the "connected learner." Aside from reflecting on his life and his practice on his blog, he uses Twitter to grow his network, uses Delicious to capture and share bookmarks, and makes other tools like Skype and YouTube a regular part of his learning life. In other words, he's deeply rooted in the learning networks he advocates for his students.

"It's changed everything for me as a learner," he says. "I teach in a small school of 145 kids, so I don't know what it's like to have a lot of colleagues. I can't imagine closing my door and having to generate all of these ideas on my own."

So Clarence helps his students create these networked interactions at every turn. A few years ago, his students collaborated with a classroom in Los Angeles to study S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders, using Skype for live conversations and blogs to capture their reflections on both the story and the interactions. More recently, his students studied The Book Thief by Markus Zusak with a class of Ontario students, listening online as their teachers read the book aloud while conducting a chat in the background filled with questions, reflections, and predictions as to what would happen next. Over the years, his students have worked with kids in Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and China, just to name a few.

But here's the thing. While Clarence may be the conductor of these connections at the outset, most of the networking quickly starts coming from his students. As he was beginning to explore the idea of the "thin walled" classroom back in 2006, he wrote on his blog:

The connections have had very little to do with me. I've provided access, direction, and time, but little else. I have not had to make elaborate plans with teachers, nor have I had to coordinate efforts, parceling out contacts and juggling numbers. It is all about the kids. The kids have made contacts. They have begun to find voices that are meaningful to them, and voices they are interested in hearing more from. They are becoming connectors and mavens, drawing together strings of a community. They are beginning to expect to work in this way. They want to know what the people in their network are saying, to hear about their lives and their learning. They want feedback on their own learning, and they want to know they are surrounded by a community who hears them. They make no distinction about class, about race, about proficiency in English, or about geography. They are only interested in the conversation and what it means to them.

That's a very different picture from what happens in most traditional classrooms, but it captures the essence of what student (and teacher) learning can look like in schools these days. "Thin walls" expand the classroom, and in the process deepen our understanding and practice of all of those "21st Century Skills" that we examined earlier, the critical thinking, the problem solving skills, and the rest. And as students begin to experience the powerful pull of connection to other students and teachers outside of their physical spaces, they also begin to see the world writ large as a part of their daily learning lives. Just as Clarence says that these networks "changed everything for me as a learner" they also change just about everything about our interactions with the kids we teach, the way we think about classrooms, and the way we see the world. Those are big statements, but these shifts are being played out every day in profound ways. And more and more they reflect the real world of learning that our students will graduate into, whether we help them get there or not.

No doubt, all of this has huge implications for us as educators. In fact, even those of us living at the heart of these changes feel some discomfort trying to think through all the ways that the Web challenges the traditional structures of schools and classrooms and learning. But here's the thing: given these opportunities for connection that the Web now brings us, schools will have to start leveraging the power of these networks. And here are the two game-changing conditions that make that statement hard to deny: right now, if we have access, we now have two billion potential teachers and, soon, the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips.

That, in no uncertain terms, is different.

Most schools were built upon the idea that knowledge and teachers are scarce. When you have limited access to information and you want to deliver what you do have to every citizen in an age with little communication technology, you build what schools are today: age-grouped, discipline-separated classrooms run by an expert adult who can manage the successful completion of the curriculum by a hundred or so students at a time. We mete out that knowledge in discrete parts, carefully monitoring students progress through one-size-fits all assessments, deeming them "educated" when they have proven their mastery at, more often than not, getting the right answer and, to a lesser degree, displaying certain skills that show a "literacy" in reading and writing. Most of us know these systems intimately, and for 120 years or so, they've pretty much delivered what we've asked them to.

But, what happens when knowledge and teachers aren't scarce? What happens when it becomes exceedingly easy to people and content around the things you want to learn when you want to learn them? What happens when in the next decade or so, almost everyone gains access to these profoundly different learning spaces, filled with teachers and content outside the walls through the devices they carry in their pockets? What happens when we don't need schools to manage the delivery of content any more, when we can get it on our own, anytime we need it, from anywhere we're connected, from anyone who might be connected with us?

In a word, things change.

For each of us as learners in the world at large, the fundamental change is that we can be much more in control of the learning we do. It's not about the next unit in the curriculum as much as it is what we need to know when we need to know it. And it's not so much even what we carry around in our heads, all of that "just in case" knowledge that schools are so good at making sure students get these days. As Jay Cross, the author of Informal Learning, suggests, in a connected world, it's more about how much knowledge you can access. "'What can you do?' has been replaced with, 'What can you and your network connections do?' Knowledge itself is moving from the individual to the individual and his contacts." If we have access to our networks, we're a lot smarter than we used to be. In fact, "connection with others in a network is of prime importance in having access to a wide repository of knowledge," according to Vance Stevens of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi. In other words, if we want to make the most of our brains these days, we need to connect online.

What hasn't changed is this: learning, online or off, is still social, and that's good news for all of us. If you're seeing a vision of students sitting in front of computers working through self-paced curricula and interacting with a teacher only on occasion, you're way, way off. That's not effective online learning. What is possible, however, is that because of the connections we can now make on the web, there is as much potential (if not more) for meaningful learning to occur in the interactions between people online than in their face to face places. Why? Primarily because online, we can connect to others who share our passions to learn in extended, deeper ways that in many ways can't occur offline. That's not to say that face-to-face learning isn't important or valuable. It is. But so is the learning we can now do on the Web. And it's the melding of the two that will shape our schools in the 21st century.

Excerpted with permission from R. Mancabelli & W. Richardson (in press), Personal Learning Networks, Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

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