Connected Pro-D

The Networked Student by Wendy Drexler – A Humble Response

Posted in ECI 831 by tchcruiser on October 12, 2009

What are you thoughts on the concept of the networked learner? Potential for school transformation? Existing supports and barriers from your experience? What does this mean for teachers and our relationships with students

The networked learner certainly would be challenged by the current educational system – as evidenced in the video that I have seen before in other places . We are starting on this road for creating space for networked learning, but we really are trying to operate within a structure that does not fit the limitless edges of this kind of approach. It is a much larger issue than a round hole in a square peg – and one that we have to seriously grapple with if we want to truly engage students and prepare them for the challenges of learning and working.

What I find most difficult for myself, and for students, is TIME. You need lots of it in order to find the related resources you need in order to create your virtual textbook – you need to find, sort, read through/listen to/watch… and then you need to think about, evaluate and sort through the multitude of possible resources to find ones that best fit your question or your passion… and sometimes even then, you need time to go deeper, find the not so obvious matches for the ways in which they can connect and expand your learning in more interesting and diverse ways. There would be time within a school day to do this – if we were not concerned about teaching specific content and could spend more time teaching the skills needed to deal with the content they find once they do search. As well, I think there are issues with the silo-approach to subject areas and set times spent in each area. Learning that is meaningful, at least for me, often happens in chunks of time. I can get engrossed in a task and want to spend hours pursuing it until I am either satisfied, bored or spun off in another direction. I will then often not go back to it for awhile and spend chunks of time doing something else until my brain is ready to think about it again. This approach does not work well when it has to perform for only 30 minutes each day and then have to switch and start thinking about something else completely different. I can imagine it is the same for students – frustration about having to stop working only after just nicely getting started. And not only stop working, but put everything away, pack up and move to another spot!

What does it all mean for teachers and learners?

1. Well- the notion of set times for teaching and learning has to stop. There is no way that you can contain it to a small bit of time each day for a few months only, if you want networks to be built, repsonses to come from all over the world, ideas to flow between related topics. Not everyone works at the same time and for the same amount of time at a task. Schools really have to re-think about what a school day looks like, and where teaching and learning can operate from. With communication tools, it is entirely possible to work from home, from the library, from around the world and still be connected to each other for parts of the day or week  AS NEEDED!

2. The products and demonstrations of student learning certainly must change in order to meet the needs of networked learners. Blogs, wikis, uploaded videos, pod casts, etc – all are creative compositions that require not just a written response, but also rely on audio and visual representations of knowledge and experience. I am excited by this, but I know that it scares many teachers becuase they do not know how to create this themselves.

3. There will be a shift from teacher and publisher created texts as the only official resource, to student created and compiled references based on individual student interests and study that reflect a bredth and depth of the subject being studied.

4. There will also be a shift from teaching content to teaching skills – and this is a HUGE change for many teachers and is what makes them very nervous. It is easier to master a discreet area of content and find a few ways to teach how to know it – but it is very difficult to teaching how to think about any content, and then teach ways to share what you think about it with others all over the world in a multitude of ways. Our teacher training and government ministry of education is not geared for this yet and we are still training teachers to teach subjects to kids, rather than teach skills so that kids can learn any subject from anyone, anywhere and share their learning and further wonderings with people beyond their friends, family and local community.

Thankfully, Wendy’s video did highlight the fact that the role and place of the teacher is not dead or obselete! Perhaps what we teach is, but not our importance and impact in shaping student learning. There is still important work for us to be doing – even though we will have to find the training and knowledge about how to do this from our own professional development and learning communities that model networked learning so we get a feel for how this kind of learning happens.

We are still needed to show students explicitly how to manage information properly – through setting up RSS feeds so they are aware and can track the most recent postings relevent to their subjuects of interest and study, through using and showing students how to use synchronous communication tools, by showing kids how to set up their own network of teachers and learners and how to contribute and share to that network in meaningful ways (blogging, twitter management, wiki spaces, etc), model and teach appropriate communication skills that politely and respectfully ask for information that is needed, and to think critically, analyze and evaluate content that is found and created within the networked learning space.

The teacher’s role in the shaping and support of the networked learner is even more powerful and important than it ever has been because we are on the frontier of this work right now. There is no formal training that proclaims you as certified, and yet we are expected to do this AND maintain our old professional practices which has me feeling like I am caught in no man’s land at times – does anyone else feel pulled in two directions at times and not sure they are doing a good job of either one?

5 Responses to 'The Networked Student by Wendy Drexler – A Humble Response'

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  1. Great post! I completely agree about shifting towards a skill based curriculum that can make all subjects accessible to all students. Time, motivation and a great deal of creativity (by some folks who are not always known for their creativity)would be needed. I’m certain we’ll see it, and you’re in a position where you may even be a part of the ground work for it, within our careers. Best of luck!

    • tchcruiser said,

      Jesse – thanks for the quick reply! I was thinking about this a bit more with my partner Mark who is also a teacher while we were having supper and we were also wondering how this would all shake down in a time and place that is still concerned about how we rank and measure against other jurisdictions. As long as we need to be able to compare our education with others, it will be VERY HARD to break from a structured, compartmentalized understanding of teaching and learning and assessing knowledge learned – can you imagine a standardized test that would assess the skills needed to be a networked learner and how that would look? I wonder where our students in SK would rank in comparison to other areas of the world – even though we lament about feeling like we are behind the times, are we really in comparison to other areas of the world, or are we further ahead than we think? This is interesting food for thought…. hmmmm…. I wonder if there are such assessment tools out there for this kind of ranking? I am guessing this would fly in the face of what it means to be connected in a connectivism sort of learning community. Although I think you could identify some key skill areas that would indicate some basic “networked” status: ie knowledge of RSS conventions, blogging etiquette, tagging, video production and uploading, use of synchronous communication tools, etc. That might be kind of an interesting project- creating a “Are You Networked” kind of assessment tool – I wonder if this would count as an idea for the final project for this class…I am still looking for ideas 🙂

  2. starkg said,

    Hi Delise!

    I also think you have a great post! I can really relate to the need for time to explore and digest information. It really throws my thinking process off when it is suddenly announced that time is up and you have to switch to a different subject… I’m afraid I had and eraser or two bounce off my head in school for continuing on with what I was interested in and not noticing the class had switched… No permanent damage that I’m of though… 🙂

    I know what you mean about being pulled in two directions. I am gaining all this nice technological knowledge, yet trying to stuff it into the traditional teaching mold… not a great fit…

    Wouldn’t it be great to have the freedom to just run with learning when students become enthralled by it? I’m lucky that I have a little of that kind of freedom – I teach all the subjects to my students and they are on individualized programs so we can occasionally explore as long as we need to before changing gears. If only we had more computer lab time…

    Thanks for the great thoughts!


  3. starkg said,

    oops – that should read No permanent damage that I’m aware of… hmmmmm…

  4. I think it’s a great idea for your major project… my only qualification on that though, is that I won’t be marking your final project!!!

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