When my classmates in EDES 545 and I first started this final project, I never really anticipated what a valuable learning experience it was going to be or how effectively we would work together to exemplify what it means to be a 21st century learner. The idea of working collaboratively was born from a simple Skype call and the rest of the class embraced the idea with enthusiasm. I believe that everyone was willing to take the risk and try something innovative, only because we had already established a safe and supportive camaraderie throughout the course of the semester. There was, and still is, a strong basis of trust, mutual respect, positive support, enthusiasm and encouragement from all of my classmates and also from our instructor, Joanne. She gave us her trust and the freedom to explore, create and learn and without that we never would have been successful.
In creating this Voicethread, it amazes me to see how many of the 21st century skills and characteristics we embodied. The seven of us have never met face to face, and yet we have created an incredibly strong network through the use of skype, the Web CT discussion board, email, elluminate sessions, instant messaging, twitter, the wiki and this voicethread. Any time someone needed help or had a question, there was immediate support through one of these means of communicating. The group was playful and fun to talk with, bounce ideas off of and for the first time in my life, I thoroughly enjoyed doing group work this semester. Every day that we worked on this project, I eagerly checked the voicethread first thing in the morning and periodically throughout the day to see how it was changing and evolving. It was fun and exciting to see the images and ideas presented around them take shape. The suggestion of using Henry Jenkin’s article with which to build our ideas around was inspirational, and the means through which we appropriated the article and added photos, comments, web & video links to create something new was one of the first experiences I’ve had with creating something transformative. Everyone in the group exhibited utmost respect for intellectual property, being careful to chose creative commons photos or creating their own images.
The clearest concept that was exemplified in this project however, was that of collective intelligence. The idea that Ruth presented that discovery is a social process hit the proverbial nail on the head. As everyone in our class worked together on the wiki and the voicethread, real insights were made that likely never would have been otherwise if we were working alone. In this regard, the concept of synergy truly shone through. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts!
This project wasn’t without challenges for me or my group however. Multitasking on several final papers and projects at once left me, and I suspect a few other group members, feeling somewhat concerned that we would have enough time to complete our vision of what 21st century learning should look like, with the amount of content and connected reflection process that we felt it deserved. I, for one, had enough difficulty learning how to focus on each concept and how to divide my attention between the ideas without losing my ability to concentrate….all the ideas that were being presented were just so connected, it was difficult to know at times which comment to apply to which slide.
Ruth jokingly mentioned in an email earlier this week that Henry Jenkins just added one more concept to the list and who would take it on at such a late phase? That concept is evolving creation. As I look at what we’ve created in this voicethread, and I listen to my class mates’ reflections my thoughts are still connecting to other’s ideas, and building on what I’ve learned. I think this Voicethread could continue to grow and evolve indefinitely. I feel that as a teacher I am still evolving and changing, and more than ever I am truly a student who has so much learning ahead of me. This has been my biggest shift in thinking this year, and I’ve got to thank Joanne and my class mates for this small epiphany. When I started my leave of absence this year to start my masters, I felt like I was learning in isolation. It wasn’t just because I was living in relative geographic isolation, but mainly because all of my past learning experiences have emphasized individual achievement. Now, after taking the time to build my Personal learning network and making connections to people that have the same interests and passions, I feel that I have a supportive community behind me as I continue my learning. I now understand what Will Richardson meant when he stated that “learning in this environment is about being able to construct, develop, sustain and participate in global networks that render time and place less and less relevant” (Richardson, 2009. p.8)
Will Richardson also said that “we need to make these connections in our own practice first so we can thoroughly understand the pedagogical implications for the classroom.” (2009. p. 8) In Doug Johnson’s blog post on connected teaching, he also suggests that “teachers do their own learning first” and “that they should see themselves as learners in the classroom alongside of their students.” (Johnson, 2010). To me, this idea has created a whole shift in thinking about how I want to teach and interact with my students next year. I have to admit that prior to my learning this year, some of the tech tools that I’ve tried to use in the classroom have simply taken the work that student’s do on paper, and digitized it. I wasn’t giving them the opportunity to share their work with a global audience or giving them the chance to network or participate in the construction of collective cognition. When I think of what Joanne has so transparently modeled for us this year, I now KNOW what it is that I need to do to improve my own practice and to encourage my other colleagues to do. We need to show our students as transparently as possible what it is that we would like to see from them. Joanne was a perfect guide in our learning journey, as was always present in our networks through whichever means we felt the most comfortable communicating with her –whether that was twitter, Facebook, web CT, email, or by phone. As Mark mentioned in the Voicethread, we as teachers, need to be present not only physically in our students’ lives but also in their online networks. I believe Will Richardson is right when he says that we need to help our students understand and prepare for creating their own Personal Learning Networks. By demonstrating to our students that we are life-long learners as well as teachers, we can show them in a transparent way how “to be literate at developing their own connections around the world to be life-long learners in the truest sense” (Richardson, 2007).
Thank you to Joanne, Ruth, Dawn, Natasha, Cynthia, Shirley and Mark for everything you’ve taught me and for being such an important part of my own journey.
Johnson, Doug. (March 30, 2010) Connected teaching. Weblogg-ed. Retrieved from http://weblogged-com/
Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks: CA, Corwin