Danny Hennesey “Chaotic Connections”, 2009, abstract painting. https://www.artdoxa.com/MushroomBrain/large?page=15
21st century education is all about connections. As a teacher working within the 4 dimensions of the IB curriculum, I often find myself listening for that synaptic crackle created when students mentally flex and leap between content and concepts; subject and non-subject specific skills. Many lessons are crackle free because to connect is to transcend detail; to connect is to think critically and to indicate a state of real-world readiness. To connect is really hard. As IB teachers, we control and influence how connections are formed but how and how can we do a better job? I’ve been working on dialling up the role of blogging as it offers scope for students to make more authentic connections between learning experiences, whilst also encouraging the creation of an online network. Personally, writing a blog and having an on/off relationship with the twittersphere has by default increased my own sense and awareness of digital connectivity and put me in touch with a rich range of interesting ideas and examples of good practice.
Edtech thinkers and proponents of connectivism like George Siemens are labelling structured learning as ‘irrelevant’ (Siemens, 2010) and are instead flying the flag for a more ‘granular and nebulous networked learning experience’ (Siemens, 2010). Knowledge loses its value faster than ever before. In order to combat the developing chaos that accompanies the shrinking half-life of what is relevant, connectivism supports the use of connected networks designed to help evaluate and confirm the validity of what we need to know. As a learning theory, connectivism favours the ability to self-select what is learnt and through the development of individual learning networks, we learn to connect and evaluate concepts that transcend individual disciplines. Within our classrooms, staff and student blogs could be the simplest way to take a small step towards building personal networks and making stronger connections. Busting the myth that ‘asking google’ makes a learner connected and explicitly discussing the creation of an online network as an ATL skill are both important steps in this direction.
The project and inquiry based nature of MYP teaching has meant that students are regularly developing their own online learning networks. I can certainly do more to turn up student awareness of the networks they are creating but I think that responsibility for evaluating online sources and building a digital learning strategy should be school wide. However, I recognise that blog posts written in the English classroom have become ‘nodes’ through which cross-curricular links and connections can be made. They symbolise the creation of an original opinion and in turn reflect the varied nature of the learning landscape. Perhaps I could design more tasks that ask the students to evaluate and use each other’s blog content as source material – potentially a good way to raise the issues of different opinions and validity of information. A similar approach, although not one specifically centred on blogging is explored in this video on the ‘Networked student’.
Blogging has allowed me to up-skill and to feel that some of my classroom and professional practice is a bit more ‘contemporary’. It has also allowed me to encourage my students to enjoy the process of writing about something which they are interested in without always being held accountable to do so in a formal, academic style. As it continues to grow in my classroom, blogging has also been one area in which, I am surprised to feel ‘ahead’ of most students. It has allowed me the space to reflect and to clarify my thinking on key issues. The process of being online and of making occasional forays into Twitter has meant that I have, by default, become more connected. These platforms have enabled me to participate in some longer, slower online conversations, which have in turn stimulated shorter, faster real life discussions with colleagues I work with every day.
If, as Siemens suggests, we now ‘think in networks’ (Siemens, 2010), then it seems vital to ensure that teachers increase their stake in the 21st century knowledge market. After all, if we are asking our students to blog and connect, then shouldn’t we too have digital skin in the game.
“Global Social Media Statistics Summary 2016.” Smart Insights. 09 Jan. 2017. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.
“Stats.” WordPress.com. 22 Nov. 2016. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.
UOC. “George Siemens – Connectivism: Socializing Open Learning.” YouTube. YouTube, 15 June 2010. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.