Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Redefining the 21st Century Learner

Earlier today, I was asked to demonstrate my understanding of the term '21st Century Learner'. I was pleasantly surprised by the question and found myself mentally reviewing a few of the conversations I'd had with colleagues in recent days.

The term may have been adopted to spur educators to consider the relevance of learning experiences being offered to students; to embrace emerging tools in the classroom; and to inspire an evolution in our practice. Now that it's 2010, and we're well into the new millennium, my observations are that the term has failed to engage a majority of educators in critical reflection of their own teaching practice.

By the time I was finished critiquing the term, I was faced with a follow-up question: What term would you use in place of 21st Century Learner?

In considering a more apt term to represent today's school-aged learners, I put forth the term 'refugees'. I went on to explain that I see students every day, who have to unplug, disconnect, and go solo in a world whose terrain is foreign to the way they regularly interact. Rather than interact via mobile devices tethered by invisible signals, most of today's students have to wait for teacher permission to communicate, and even then, can only network with students in the same room. In many ways, it's like being forced to speak a unique language while being contained in a foreign land. What they wouldn't give, to have the freedom to return to their 'home country'!

How would you have responded?

Have you grown tired of the term 21st Century Learner?
Do terms like Digital Native and Digital Immigrant now strike you as failed attempts to categorize youth and their not-quite-so-techy parents and teachers?
Do you have an apt metaphor for today's learners in today's schools?
Do you see today's learners as 'Time Travelers', 'LOST passengers', 'bats without radar', or something different?

The audio version of this story is available as today's episode on The Clever Sheep Podcast.

Image Credit: Alex Mickla

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ontario Teachers are Learners

I've often said that I love living in the world of Edu-Blogs and Twitter for the simple reason that this is where the learners are. It's next to impossible to see yourself as a learner, if you're not finding ways to connect with other like-minded educators, so the increasing numbers of Ontario educators learning in virtual spaces has been reassuring.

The act of connecting with virtual colleagues may be rich for each participating individual, but will such engagement ever be enough to bring about systemic change? If inspirational educators worry only about "today, in my classroom", then who will inspire the professional growth local 'unplugged' peers? It begs the question: "Is your PLN virtual, or real?"

In recent years, school-based teams in Ontario have become engaged in Teaching-Learning Critical Pathways a collaborative process that engages teachers in reflective practice. The process has grown out of Crevola, Fullan & Hill's, 2006 book, Breakthrough, and succeeds when every classroom participant benefits from a customized learning experience.

Classroom teachers are active learners throughout the process: collaboratively designing lessons; assessing the effectiveness of shared strategies; using the evidence to plan a way forward. In short, the teachers are co-learners with their charges. Combine this colleague-to-colleague professional learning with what appears to be happening in online spaces, and the future looks promising for Ontario families.

A Caveat:
Boards of education across the province have widely adopted this practice with elementary school teams, yet the TLCP process and related terminology are foreign to secondary teachers in my region. While the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat has been spearheading the adoption of research-based practices in grades 1 to 8, many secondary schools continue to stagnate.

What are the steps will lead to the development of relevant courses, learning strategies, and professional learning for Ontario's high school teachers?

Photo Credits: story photos courtesy of torres21

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Rise of 'Interest-based' Learning

It's been two years since I first wrote about 'Learning Without Teachers', and now Sugata Mitra is sharing compelling stories involving peer instruction, that should lead educators at all levels to re-think what it means to teach.

Mitra's most recent research seems to validate an approach that forgoes 1:1 computing, in favour of a strategy that limits access to learning tools. In a wide range of settings, with diverse populations of learners, Mitra has married the use of communications technology to 'interest-based' learning, and the early results have been stunning, even if counterintuitive.

Do you believe that this 'peer to peer' approach affirms recent developments in professional learning? Does it validate project-based approaches to learning? Might it support equipping a classroom with an On Demand Ecosystem?

Sugata Mitra speculates that "Education is a self organising system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon..." and he is committed to researching this contention. Whether or not we agree, Mitra's work provides an unspoken challenge: How do you assess the effectiveness of the tools and learning strategies that you employ?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Taking Flight with Creative Commons

A blank page can pose an intimidating challenge to a creator; at the same time, a discarded cardboard box can inspire a child to imagine an entire world. It prompted me to wonder: "Why don't we use similar triggers to spark creative 'knowledge' construction by modern learners?"

As outlined in my previous post in preparation for the ABEL Summer Institute, participants in my Creative Commons workshop, were invited to join in the collaborative creation of a field guide. Rather than starting with a blank canvas, I provided the title slide, and invited colleagues to consider the stunning CC licensed photography of Trey Ratcliff (stuckincustoms on Flickr) for inspiration.

After priming the pump for workshop participants, our Google form collected suggestions for using CC in the classroom; questions about creative ownership; and general insights regarding media. The suggestions of teachers have been paired with the images that inspired the contributions, and the resulting work is licensed for further sharing, re-mixing, and knowledge construction.

The parallel goal of the resulting slidedeck, is to inspire educators to consider ways that they might use Creative Commons in the classroom. My hope is that this guidebook will act as a 'cardboard box' of sorts, inspiring creative individuals to take flight.