Busy week of online activity

It’s been a busy week! On top of my regular teaching responsibilities I have been spending a lot of time fielding emails from around the world, engaging in audio meetings with teachers in Israel and trying to keep on top of the blogs and forums where the students have been very active.

So here’s the update. On Saturday, I spent several hours in two meetings with two sets of teachers from Israel. It was a pedagogically intense afternoon. In my first meeting, Nelly Deutsch, from Rabin High School in Israel, and I made contact for the first time and had a wonderful conversation about our shared love of using technology within our teaching practices. We decided we would use a webquest of the novel The Giver, by Lois Lowry as our collaborative project. Nelly had created this webquest for another class last year and as her Master’s thesis project. We are taking a different approach in this project than what I have done before. The students of both schools will be divided into teams to complete the webquest so it will be a real cross-cultural collaborative experience. I have taught the novel for a number of years at my previous school, so I am really happy to be using this wonderful book!

Today, the students from the class that will be participating in this project had a lively discussion on cultural rituals and identity based on the article “Nacirema” – which is an article which appeared in The American Anthropologist in 1958. It took them a while to pick up the satirical references. Fun stuff!

My second meeting on Saturday involved a meeting with the two teachers from Neveh Channah School in Israel, Leorah Addi and Reuven Werber (a very good friend from previous projects) for the other project. They needed a tutorial in the moodle environment I had created and I spent nearly two hours providing instruction for that in quite an unusual manner. We went into Talking Communities – an environment that not only allows us to have an audio conversation and instant text chat, but also has a webpage interface that permits one of the users to force a webpage into the browsers of the other users. So I was able to provide a tutorial with audio, text, and visuals! It has to be the most unique experience I have had in instruction. We are each providing two short stories from our cultures as the literature for our collaborative projects.

Today, the students from that class went into the shared forum area of the Learning Management system I had created with moodle and made their introductions. We kicked off the unit with a discussion about culture and trying to avoid superficial introductions. On Monday, the students in Israel will be going into the forum area during their lab time to make their own introductions and respond to ours.

I may have mentioned to you that a teacher from New Zealand has approached me through a mutual contact to investigate the possibility of a possible communication experience between our gr. 7 students. We are just in the initial email stages, but I hope we can meet soon for an audio meeting to create the lesson plan and goals for this project. Karen Fahy is from Cashmere School in Christchurch on the South Island. I will continue to keep you updated on progress with that situation.

For the Global Virtual Classroom Web Design Contest, we have been allowed this year to choose one of our two partners with whom we may have worked in the past or whom we have met in the “Teacher’s Lounge” in the Nicenet forum area. My two former partners from Israel and Michigan wanted to team up again, but the ages of their students are much higher than mine, so I stepped back from those partnerships. Instead, I approached a teacher of 12-13 year old students at the Kuwait English School who wanted a group who was interested in working on literature and reading as a theme/topic for the website we will create. David Kellam has agreed to be one of our partners and I am thoroughly delighted because he has had considerable experience in web design for educational purposes. The overseers of the contest will pick our third school member to the team – probably next week.

I was also approached by a school in Siberia to team up with for the contest, but I had already committed to Kuwait. We have sent several emails back and forth about our GVC experiences and Milana Zubritskaya, (from Lyceum NSTU, Novosibirsk, Russia) asked if I would permit one of her students to interview me for a website they are making about educational practices around the world, which I was happy to do. I told her to send along the website address when they have finished that project.

The grade 7 students have been very excited about their blogs on Blog Meister and it was fun this week to take some time in class to read some of the blogs from the Smart Board. I have recently heard from a teacher at another school who would like to share our class blogs with each other, so that may be happening soon.

The larger projects of GVC and the collaborative lit. projects do not get underway in a serious manner until mid-October which is great because I need some breathing space to correct my stacks of marking!!

Have you heard of the new learning theory?

Just when we could barely get our minds wrapped around constructivist learning theories in all its permutations, a new learning theory has been proposed to more adequately address how learning is taking place into today’s digitized world. George Siemens calls it connectivism and explains it in his short but significant paper Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. In it he points out the shortcomings of constructivist and cognitive theories of learning to propose a theory that can address chaos, networks, and connectivity in organizations. I guess you can say it is a macro approach to learning theory from a postmodernist position. Just recently, I finished reading The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman and can say that these two independent works are pretty much pointing out a similar phenomenon. That is, a paradigm shift has taken place in pedagogy and practice over how people are making meaning and opportunities for themselves using knowledge capital in the midst of a technology and information glut.

Recently, in his own blog on connectivism, Siemens tackled the definition of learning as fundamentally being an activity of meaning-making. While it has left him unsatisfied, I think it is better than a simple acquisition of knowledge. Never before in history has an individual been exposed to so much readily available information. We know that mere exposure does not constitute learning. It seems to me that meaning-making is at least a good beginning to defining the process of learning. And so, I have been challenging myself as a teacher of adolescent learners – how am I providing an environment for my students in which they can engage in meaning-making? How do I go about presenting information and evaluating their performance given this position? As an educational technologist, how do I persuade my colleagues that technology can be an appropriate support for meaning-making in this paradigm shift? How do I explain to parents that this paradigm shift implicitly affects the type of educational tools that will be required by their children to best prepare them for a future in this digital world?

Another statement of Siemen’s that resonates with my experiences and perspective: Learning must link to real life. Never has the world been more flat or connected. Now we must prepare the next generation to understand and flourish within this connectedness.