Sunday, January 29, 2012

Individual and social

One of the trends that I've seen in learning over the past few years is that it is becoming more individualized.  On Friday, for example, I was helping a class of Grade 2 students to tune in to their new How the World Works unit of inquiry.  Some of the students were looking at the BBC Weatherwise website, some were looking at a world map showing different temperatures around the world (I was interested to notice that even at this stage some students were able to see a pattern in this and others not), some were looking at a weather forecast of our local area for the weekend and seeing if they could use the symbols to predict what the weather would be (we are meeting again first thing tomorrow to see if they were right), some were looking at a graph that had bars representing rainfall and lines representing temperature and seeing if they could read the graph and some were using a paint programme on the computer to find clipart and made a graphic organizer about how weather affects us.  All these different things are giving the homeroom teacher and myself information about what individual students already know, and how we can deepen their understanding.  We know that some children may need more help with their data handling skills, others may need to have more support in other areas.

Later in this unit of inquiry I'm hoping our students will be able to be more social as they move into the finding out phase of the inquiry cycle.  That they will be able to use social networking tools to contact other students around the world who can help them with their investigations.  So what I'm seeing in this unit is that learning is both individual and social.  I'm interested in the social side of learning.  How will we find these people with whom we can learn?  How will they find us?  How will we assess the people that we are in contact with and the information that they will give us?  How will we share the understandings that we create with others who will find this useful?

Today I've dipped into Will Richardson's chapter "Navigating Social Networks as Learning Tools" in the book 21st Century Skills where I came across the statistic that 80% of high school students publish online - this includes text, photo, audio and video and is mostly on social network sites.  Recent studies I've read have shown that students are reading and writing more because it is so easy to read and write more using Web 2.0 tools.  What they are doing is not necessarily learning - they may be just updating their Facebook status for example - but learning can come about as a result of the connections that they make.  Students are not writing in a vacuum.  They are writing because they assume someone else is reading what they are  writing and responding to it.  Since we know that students already like to do this as individuals, then surely it's an easy step for us as teachers to use these social networks to encourage others to interact and collaborate with us.
Linkability is the connective tissue upon which learning networks are built (Richardson)
For myself, although I write as an individual I'm very aware that what I write is being read by thousands of people around the world each week.  I write in a very transparent way, though I have removed all references to the name of my school after the administration objected me blogging.  However the URL of my blog includes my whole name as does my email address.  I include my photo on my blog and on Twitter - at conferences people come up to me because they recognize me from these photos.  At times the things I write reflect not just on my own experience, but on that of my family and at those times I try to balance privacy with transparency.  I think people who have never met me in person see me as a human being.  Last summer when my son was going to Hong Kong for a summer school at the university, I contacted one of the members of my network to ask if he had any volunteer positions at his school that my son could do.   I had no hesitation in doing this because I also saw him as an individual, an educator, a family man, though our only contact has been through Twitter.  In the same way, when I was looking for a job I posted my professional portfolio online.  This basically condensed into one place the myriad of links to myself that would have appeared if any prospective employer had Googled my name.  I'm happy with my digital footprint being public, though of course I have no idea who all the readers of it are or how they have come to find me.  However I truly believe that for me and for my son and for the students that I teach, the results of what people find when they Google our names are our online reputations and will play a large role in our successes.  Will Richardson writes:
Future searchers ... will have an expectation of finding creative, collaborative, thoughtful and ethical results to peruse.  An empty Google search will beg the question, "What have you been doing with your life?"  
It's a two-way street.  For every school that I considered working at I also Googled the name of the school and key administrators there.  I checked out the school websites very carefully:  how much information were they actually sharing as I think sharing is important - if I'm prepared to share large parts of myself online then I expect to find things about the school and the people I will be working with online too.  There were some schools that were very "locked down" - I could only find the external face of the school, the marketing and public relations, nothing about the people, their ideas, nothing at all that they had published online.  Having made that mistake once I knew I would never again work for anyone with an empty reputation.  There were other schools that openly published their strategic plans - I could see where these schools were going to be in 5 years time and how they intended to get there.  I could envisage what my role would be in that process.  I could see the communities that these teachers and administrators are involved in, I could see if they had presented at conferences and read what they had published.  So I think that what I have seen has been a blending of the individual and the social.  As an individual I had very specific criteria of what I was searching for in a new school and I think I have very specific qualities that I can offer in return. However I feel that it has been social media that has helped me in searching for the best job in the world for me.

Photo Credit:  Join Our Team by Craig Taylor AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

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