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!

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