A Virtual Bridge

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Thomas Hawk

Exploring the theory of connectivism and the concept of networking requires a great deal of insight. Indeed, a forward thinking school district (and IT services) would change the red light to green and start to say “why not?” rather than “I’ll get back to you”, “fill out these forms, “maybe” or just plain “no”. Schools would (and I believe should) be challenged to embrace and teach the challenging skill set necessary to put connectivism theory into networked practice. This skill set, as highlighted by Drexler, includes finding, accessing and evaluating information, managing this information, creating a type of virtual textbook out of it, reflecting, responding, and sharing ideas that emerge from this, and virtually communicating appropriately with others. All of this is done with a wide variety of evolving web tools from blogs to wikis to readers to podcasts, and includes live chats, video sharing, social bookmarking, presentation applications (written, video, slides, etc…), and social media of many types. An on-line identity is created and shaped and shared in this brave new world. Currently bits and pieces of the tools of connectedness are addressed at school, but much of this is done within optional courses. Complicating this is the fact that many students are not strong readers and writers, and struggle with basic literacy skills (a crucial underpinning of any learning –  networked or not). Other students may not have the needed access to a computer (and a good internet connection), while still others may not have the interest or desire to seek connections no matter how much their friends talk about it or how exciting a teacher can make it seem.

So what might this mean for a high school student in Canada today?  In reality, I see many of my students exploring connectedness already (although it’s difficult to know what the degree and quality of this exploration may or may not be) . Too often I sense that the method students use is simply to muddle ahead, try stuff out, ask friends and hope for the best. Well it is admirable for students to do this, they often do so without the benefit of experience and the development of judgment. This is where I see connected educators and learners playing a pivotal role. They can bridge the ideals of the networked student with the reality of high school. They can help students to see the relationship between the media they already have appropriated and demonstrate to them how it might be better and more meaningfully used. And this is where creative thinking can help extend the typical classroom boundaries. This year I have included my students in much of what I’m doing for my various Masters courses specifically so they can see me as a learner (and not just the teacher). They watch as I try out new web tools, communicate with people from all over the world (they particularly like the comment I received from the Greek photographer whose Flickr picture I used to illustrate a point in my August 4th blog – an “amazing story” moment) and share, post, and extend my ideas. I’m absolutely not the expert (more like a willing volunteer and learner) who has managed to connect and dialogue with people who know more things about the topics I’m trying to explore and who provide valuable insight and feedback. I’m fine if they see me stumble along the way. In a very real sense my classroom has become a window into this world and as the trickier issues of the K-12 world and the virtual world merge I hope we can bridge the gaps even more.

Like the moving stairs Harry Potter navigates at Hogwart’s we have to be prepared as not only the on and off points change, but the destinations we arrive at have changed as well. I have no doubt, as 21st learners, that my students are more than up to that challenge.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by herbstkind

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