Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Getting Connected - the Why and How

Screenshot via
The question of why connect is an important one for us to consider. Of course, being connected can lead you to lots of great resources and ideas for lessons, but what we are really talking about here is connecting with people. It is through these personal connections that you can build a network of professionals who are not only filtering and curating information for you, but also becoming "go to" people you can get to know and have professional conversations with.

The reason why we do this is best summarized by David Weinberger:
“As knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing at the front lecturing us, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it. It’s not that the network is becoming a conscious super-brain. Rather, knowledge is becoming inextricable from—literally unthinkable without—the network that enables it. Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms—that is, how to build networks that make us smarter, especially since, when done badly, networks can make us distressingly stupider.”
-- David Weinberger
author of Too Big To Know
As a school, we are very focused on articulating our individual and team goals with the goals of the college so in one sense, there might not seem like there's a lot of room for a teacher to get creative. However, there is room for creativity and differentiation in our approach and how we teach.

Best practices are already being shared between individuals on the same "team" in many cases, but we should also be cognizant of broadening our scope, stepping outside of our metaphorical "boxes" to learn from each other. If you're a Math teacher in this school, how many things do you know about that are going on in the English classes? If you teach in our Infant School, what approaches to guided inquiry are they using at Dover, Tanglin, Yokahama, or UWC Maastricht?

All this matters not because we feel like we're behind other schools or need to "keep up." The reason it matters is partly due to how our students learn and how they will continue to learn in their future.

 The world's information is networked, but so are an increasing number of its people. The network allows us access to fellow practitioners, people who've done what we're trying to do and are maybe just one small step ahead of where we are.

It allows us access to experts in various fields. They are gathering places for passion-based communities that drive each other forward.

By connecting with people online we can gain access to their ideas. We can also gain access to them allowing us see how they think, what they're passionate about, and how they're learning.

Who do you connect with online? How do you connect?
What "rooms" are you in and how do they make you smarter?

Mizuko Ito and her team at the MacArthur Foundation’s program in Digital Media and Learning refer to three very different types of networked learning behaviors:

Hanging out
"Hanging out is not simply relaxing and taking it easy, it is immersing yourself in a new context and understanding how that context shapes and creates meaning. Those skills are going to be increasingly important for the 21st century, so I think we need to be careful not to underestimate the importance of hanging out in the way we talk about it."

                                                          - John Seely Brown
                                       author of A New Culture of Learning                                        interview with Forbes magazine 
Hanging out means following closely for the purposes that are mainly social.  You are in the room trying to find out who the people are, what they're interested in, and how the interact with one another.

Messing around

Messing around occurs once you understand the "rules", norms and people in a space and is characterized by a more intense interaction with the digital media.  Participation in the community begins to emerge as you begin to try things.  Interacting in this way help you deepen your understanding of the way the group functions and how to get the most use out of it.

Geeking out
"This genre primarily refers to an intense commitment or engagement with media or technology, often one particular media property, genre, or a type of technology."
                                                                                                                                                               -Mizuko Ito
                                                                              HANGING OUT, MESSING AROUND, AND GEEKING OUT
                                                                                                             Kids Living and Learning with New Media  
                                                                                                                                               2010 MIT Press p. 65

You're in this level of participation when you become deeply immersed in the network and the tools surrounding it. There is an intensity about your use and interest in the project and the technology or media with which you are working. Immersion in a personal learning network (PLN) definitely fits the description of "geek out" participation.

Here are some ways to become engaged in an online PLN:

Talk to an expert - it is always nice to learn from someone who is passionate about a tool, so search out someone you know who is walking the walk. (Your friendly Digital Literacy Coaches - @jplaman, @klbeasley and @louisephinney are three good starters for 10!)

Twitter for Teachers - This blog post has some good suggestions for teachers new to Twitter. You'll find tips, explanations to common misconceptions, and some great suggestions to get you started.

UWCSEA Twitter List - follow your UWCSEA colleagues on Twitter

UWCPD Hashtag - check out the #uwcpd hashtag for links to interesting resources, quotes, ideas and more.

Google Reader
Talk to an expert - Deb Gordon is using Google Reader with her Grade 3 students, Katie Day subscribes to all sorts of interesting things, and Annabel Howard gets a lot of new ideas from the blogs she follows. Follow up with these three, or learn from someone else you know using Google Reader to make them smarter.

RSS in Plain English - Lee LeFever explains how RSS (Really Simple Syndication) works.

Talk to an expert - we have many superusers of Diigo at UWCSEA East. Sit with Dave Caleb, Katie Day, Mary van der Heijden, Miles Beasley or the DLCs and get them to show you what they know.

Social Bookmarking in Plain English - a video by Lee LeFever explaining how social bookmarking works, using Delicious. Delicious is very similar to Diigo, so the same things apply, albeit with slight differences in interface.

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