Learning how to learn together in different ways

On September 27, 2010, in Julie Lindsay, by Julie Lindsay

Learning is social, learning is collaborative, learning does not take place in isolation. This is the premise for our Inside ITGS flattened learning structure. The challenge of being an effective learner is to be comfortable, adept and inspired in different learning situations. Ultimately a 21st Century learner must be able to survive and thrive in an online learning community as well as a face-to-face learning community, and be able to move from one to the other seamlessly.

Last week my students at Beijing (BISS) International School took a field trip to meet, face-to-face, the class they had been collaborating with and interacting with via the Ning and the wiki since August. A 25 minute bus ride took us out of the Beijing 3rd ring road area and further nth west towards the airport, to Western Academy Beijing. Out of nine students in my class 8 of them had never been to WAB before. BISS is a very different campus to WAB, so one of the first surprises of the day was discovering how large the WAB campus was, and how amazing the High School building was, with it’s open plan environment, grand piano in the communal area, and many other facilities that were alien to our BISS campus.

Watching the students adjust to new surroundings and meet their team members and ITGS partners for the first time was interesting, with shyness and awkwardness of the average teenager predominating. Luckily we broke the ice with food (WAB students catered for us…..hmmmm, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! Chocolate cake! yum!) and then with some mixed team activities. Madeleine had lined up a team drawing game where they had to draw and label input devices (very ITGS), they later had to work with a map of the world to mark in countries and capitals high and low income areas, referring to the digital divide. I was surprised that even with an international clientele, many students struggled with simple geography!

Also as part of our visit we spent time discussing the tools we are using to create the Inside ITGS collaborations and how the students felt about online learning including strategies they were adopting to improve their own success at online collaboration. There was an ulterior motive to this discussion as we videoed many conversations in order to put together our presentation for the K12 Online Conference in October entitled: Inside ITGS: Cyber-Students Share their Connected Learning, more about this in a future blog post.

What puzzled me about some of these interactions and conversations is how the students do not quite get what it means to be an online learner. They easily moved into effective classroom team work and seemed to feel comfortable and engaged with new friends. However, so far in Inside ITGS and work on the Ning and on the wiki I am not seeing true connected learning. I am seeing students who are asked to post information and products into online spaces, which they generally do quite well, and I am seeing some conversation and follow up. However, I am not seeing bonding and community building and connectivism that ultimately joins our classrooms into one……yet. We continue to act like 2 classrooms that are in the same spaces, almost by accident sometimes. I do not see the students coming back to discuss, reach out, share, communicate in a community conscious way…….yet. Maybe I am being too hard on them?

When asked the other day what their strategies were for connecting and sharing many said they relied on email. This I found surprising given the facility of the Ning and wiki! I do not think they are feeling comfortable with the Ning….and I am not sure why! After all it is sort of like a FaceBook……isn’t it? Maybe they lack ownership? Maybe they just do not know HOW to belong to a connected online community. So, our challenge as educators is to lead the way, lead by example, and model good connected and collaborative learnign ourselves. I know that Madeleine and I are doing this, but then again maybe we are NOT sharing our collaboration process effectively as a lot of it is in the background.

Lots to ponder! I want my students to appreciate the benefits of online learning and also understand how a face-to-face opportunity can cement this cyber-relationship. As Madeleine commented to me, if the students (who are meant to be more tech-savvy) don’t get it, then how can we expect the teachers who are struggling with digital tools and spaces to get it? Comments and advice from readers of this blog post most welcome!

Tagged with:  

Working with Multimedia and Web 2.0 to Communicate

On September 14, 2010, in Julie Lindsay, by Julie Lindsay

Our first real collaborative project, the Introducing……. assignment is finished and as I review work here are some pertinent comments as a way of reflection.

Students were asked to upload their finished multimedia artifact to an online space for sharing, via hyperlink or preferably via a Web 2.0 tool that allows an embed code to be used on the Ning blog post. Needless to say we had a variety of methods, including the following:

  • The use of Youku.com, a local Asian alternative to YouTube that is not blocked in China
  • Uploaded to Windows Live (however I object to this method as I do not want to have to download software to my laptop to view student work)
  • PhotoBucket – another video host that is not blocked in China and seems to be working quite efficiently
  • The WAB media server – Introducing Shawn as an example
  • Voki, audio with avatar speaking text
  • Prezi.com – PPT on steroids!

Products generally showed good technical skills but some did not reveal such good communication skills overall. It is very important to be able to use the technology and be creative, but if the message is lost or not clear then it is pointless.

The use of Web 2.0 tools was good and many students embedded their artifacts back into the Ning blog post. The WAB server is also fairly robust, and in fact does provide an embed code that the students decided not to use this time. I really prefer not to have to open another website or server space to view multimedia. It is much preferable to have the frame embedded into the blog post for easier viewing.

My Favourite Examples:

Introducing Yae, by Alejandro

About Mariana, by Yae

This one I really like for it’s uniqueness

Introducing Ding by Queena:

Introducing Philip by Kae:

Reflections on Our First Collaborative Project

On September 6, 2010, in General, Madeleine Brookes, by Madeleine Brookes

The ‘Introducing….’ project was our first attempt at collaboration with our two classes.

With the exception of one or two slight late submissions due to a technical hitch, all artifacts were submitted on time. What an achievement! How often do we ask students to contact another student in a school, ask a number of probing questions as well as a few images and video footage, then create an one-minute artifact to introduce their partner to the world? Yes, the whole world as each and every artifact is now viewable by anyone with access to the Internet.

What learning took place? We asked our students to reflect on their experiences in their blog entry. Here are some insightful extracts:

Kyle from WAB wrote:

I learned that it’s not as easy to communicate with others via the internet as I thought it would be. It is difficult to be on at the same time, and I also couldn’t not really control your partner, so it was up to me to trust my partner.

Bhargav, Kyle’s partner from BISS has similar views:

I had problem communicating but later on it went very smoothly and I was starting to have a lot of fun knowing new people. The thing I really enjoyed most was communicating with my partner.

Alex from WAB reflected:

First off I learnt many things about my partner Shawn. He was quite different from me in terms of technology use and also in the terms of how much technology he owned. So I found it quite interesting to see exactly how others understand and use technology in their life.

What were our aims as educators?

  • To have our students understand and develop online collaboration skills. We feel that we achieved this goal as evidenced by all students submitting a completed assignment.
  • For students to deepen their understanding of being responsible on-line; not only did they have to seek permission from their partner to display the artifact but also they learned more about creative commons licensing and the use of copyright-free images and sounds.
  • Importantly in an international school, we wanted to gauge the students’ command of the English language; often we are faced with students who, although very be quiet in class, have good written communication skills. By encouraging communication through the internet, most students used type-based tools such as MSN, the Ning message system and the chat feature in Skype. This allows students the time to work out the messages asked and to craft their own messages. The final products and the blog entry are also evidence of the level of English and a good starting point for us to work from.
  • Finally we wanted to see the level and diversity of technical skills which will be very important in our preparation for the major piece of internal assessment, the development of an original IT product for a specified client.

In terms of syllabus coverage, everything that the project entailed could be directly related to the ITGS – the use of technical tools, research techniques, the use of the Internet as a communication and collaboration tool, working with rubrics and examining social and ethical issues – the main ones in this project being: 1.4 Intellectual Property, 1.12 Digital Citizenship and 1.8 Globalization and Cultural Diversity.

I think that we also touched on all aspects of the IB learner profile: risk-taking, communicating, reflecting, principled…..

So all in all, this was a very successful project on many levels. For me, with any new class, the key is to ‘start with the learner’ (Bruner), and now we have some great formative assessment and evidence from each student from which we can build on and plan for.

Please visit the blog section of the ning to view the students’s work. We will also be posting in the wikispace.