A few months ago I was fortunate enough to attend the BCSSA Conference in Victoria. As Chris Kennedy tweeted, “the presentations were largely stand-and-deliver lectures, but those of us who learn by engaging with others had an amazingly rich un-conference experience.” It was there, for the first time at a conference, that I felt the ‘rush’ of being able to bypass traditional structures of learning and through backroom chat (that ‘disruptive innovation’) make new meaning, collaboratively, with all those around me and beyond. I thought of the power of social media within education. I thought of the way we conceptualize learning environments. I thought of how the perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing in our rapidly changing world. As with most of what I do, I turned these thoughts into a narrative and shared it with my staff:
Miserably dark, cold and raining, its 8:00 am: a typical mid-January Vancouver morning. At this point, Johnny usually rolls over in is bed, hits the snooze button and blows off his first class of the day at Anyschool High. Not today. Today he wakes up and bounces out of bed because ringing in his ears are the words of his Humanities teacher, Ms. Ekdahl:
“We have been good here at waiting, at being on edge at the edge of learning in the City on the Edge. No longer will we wait. I’ll see you all in the Learning Commons for class on Monday. We start reading Cormac McCarthy’s, Blood Meridian . . . be ready to tweet and participate.”
The words to Johnny elicit personal excitement and promise because, a). he loves McCarthy’s darkness, having just read The Road, b). Twitter and c). Learning Commons (enough said).
Johnny arrives in the Learning Commons at 8:30 and Ms. Ekdahl, on her third grande coffee, is bustling about:
“Kids, thank you for arriving on time today; have a seat where you feel comfortable. Take out your handhelds – open up your downloaded copy of Blood Meridian. Today we’re going to collectively start reading the novel.”
“In this lesson, I’m going to model ‘expert thinking’ for you. I’m not going to ask questions but instead, while you are thinking and following along, I’m going to think aloud and let you listen to how I construct meaning while I read. Now, rather than interrupt my stream of thought, I would like you to engage with each other and me through the back channel I have set up – I’ll project your tweets up on the wall through the lcd so that I can see them while I’m circulating, reading and thinking out loud – your responses will determine where we go with our discussion – scary but rather interesting, don’t you think? I will be assessing the worth of this lesson, both for me and for you, solely through your level of engagement and backroom chat.”
Now, of course, you know the wrinkle because we’ve done this before: our ‘hashtag’ could be joined at any time by anyone in the world or any student who happens to walk in the Commons and wants to participate. In fact I hope that Eileen and Gary can join us on twitter since they’re following us at home via our podcast: Hi Gary . . . Hi Eileen. Let’s get on with it!
This narrative raises two issues of paramount importance: the learning experience and the learning environment. Both of these issues represent key trends identified by the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Project around K-12 Education. In addressing the learning experience, they conclude that “the way we design learning experiences must reflect the growing importance of innovation and creativity as professional skills.” This innovation and creativity is happening daily here at JO, as evidenced by this very recent email I received from @MsWDBeamish:
Remember how you sent us a link about the teacher who had her students tweet as different people who were in the Civil War. Well, we would like to do the same thing for a special project we are working on but our DI students would assume roles of people who lived during the Renaissance.
We thought perhaps you may enjoy tweeting as Machiavelli?
Wow: students synthesizing facts and personalizing knowledge by creating new meaning via tweeting in character on their class site. Don’t ever underestimate the power of social media in influencing professional practice or the inevitable type casting that we as administrators often struggle against!
The second issue, that of the learning environment, is a huge one and opens up a larger discussion around learning spaces becoming more community-driven, interdisciplinary, and supported by technologies that engage physical and virtual communication and collaboration. For us at JO, the creation of this ‘space’, this Learning Commons, will have at its core inquiry-based learning as the essential concept for the re-design of teaching and learning – as laid out in BCTLA’s seminal 2010 publication, The Points of Inquiry: A Framework for Information Literacy and the 21st Century Learner. The hope for us is that every learner, every class engages in not only what they will learn but also, and perhaps more importantly, in how they will learn. Students taking charge of their learning and through it teaching each other, integrating technology as a means of enhancing inquiry, and collectively creating a school-wide tech plan which foregrounds the learner, teacher, support staff, and student.
As it is for Johnny, his peers and the teacher, learning and the learning space must be meaningful and impactful to EVERY teacher and EVERY student. In order to ensure this reality, we as educators need to be brave enough to move from the known to the unknown and in so doing demonstrate the forward leadership that will allow Johnny’s reality to be ours too.