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Bringing it All Together: Community, Shifts, Roles, and Tools

By Ryan Bretag | @ryanbretag

One of things I try to avoid when looking at technology in the classroom is the one-shot, one project approach. I've seen some great projects no doubt. At the same time, these isolated uses of technologies do little to promote sustained transformation of the environment and at worst even create frustration amongst the students and teachers.

Technology becomes transformative when it is immersed into a participatory learning environment as part of the daily interactions of a networked community that taps into the interests and passions of learners. Within this community, the focus is on open learning that is highly social in order to harness collective and collaborative intelligence.

How Does One Get There?

1. Community
No question, it starts with community. You cannot make this type of shift without establishing an environment rooted in trust, reliance, and interdependence. This is not easy! There are students might (initially) resist a community of practice classroom environment because of years of isolation and faulty approaches to cooperative learning.

Olympic Chalk Black Boards

2. Shift in Power
The idea that the teacher is the center of the classroom  needs to be shifted to a distributed notion of power - a flattened hierarchy. This loss of control is difficult. It is is messy. In fact, students themselves might resist it. However, the path to engagement is when we move away from the one tool, one path, one choice, one outcome philosophy towards choice, voice, empowerment, and natural learning in a network construct. What we instead have is an environment built upon inquiry while still valuing the contribution to a well-rounded, knowledgable individual.

3. Distributed Expertise
In a transformational classroom, the expertise and strengths that each person brings to the community is amplified, embraced, and utilized for the betterment of the entire community. As we embrace what each person brings, we also work to bring these together into a collective experience.This is where Alan November's notion of a digital farm and the roles students can play as contributors comes into play. These roles, ones I see more as blended rather than just digital, build community and distributed expertise.

Along with November's list (in maroon), here are others I have included in the classroom with success:

  • Tutorial Design
  • Researchers
  • Scribes
  • Collaboration Coordinators
  • Societal Contributors
  • Curriculum Reviewers 
  • Backchannel Directors
  • Cartographers 
  • Contributors (brings new ideas and fills in gaps within our collective)
  • Curators
  • Editors (edits and reviews content in our collective)
  • Imagineer (creative designing and producing)
  • Knowledge Broker
  • mLearner (builds and discovers ways to use mobile learning devices)
  • Recruiter (recruits guests and experts both locally and globally into the classroom
  • Social Director (leverages social networking)

4. Social Media and Connective Technologies
Work with students to build the tools that will most effectively create this learning community. The suite of Google tools provides a great starting point for foundational tool: social bookmarking (gBookmarks), blogging (Blogger), collective reading and sharing (Reader), collaborative docs (Docs), wikis (Sites), video and audio suite (YouTube), mobile learning, collaborative management tools (gmail, gCal), and a social network (Google+). Moodle provides an area for access to collective resources (great to avoid storage issues) and links to other tools as they build out.

These form the foundation of the environment and other social media tools are brought in based upon needs and wants. For example, Paper.li or Scoop.it might become part of the curation efforts. Evernote might become part of the research process. However, these grow out from the community INSTEAD of being used as a one-time project or being pushed without a direct need (tool for tool sake).

What Else?
It is much easier up front just to grab a tool and bring it into the classroom for enhancement. It is a great starting point as it can lead to transformation. However, the target is transforming the classroom which is much more difficult but much more rewarding.

What else are we missing to bring this all together?

(Image: Olympic Chalk Black Boards, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from wiredcanvas's photostream)

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