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Being a connected educator isn’t just about the human connections. Building a personal learning network; discussing and contributing online and face to face are essential elements of teacher practice, for sure, but there is more to it than that. Liberating the “stuff” of teaching – the resources, materials, ideas and plans – from dusty filing cabinets and messy hard drives, then making that data organised, searchable, and reuse / remixable is the other side of the coin. This has substantial benefit: not only will there be a wider, deeper pool of resources with which to draw from, but new connections can be made between pieces of previously disparate information, facilitating new opportunities, ideas and knowledge. And so when taking a wider look at the term ‘connected educator’ it should include this facet – the ability of a teacher to organise open access to resources, make them easy to find, and allow for reuse and remix.
The mechanics of this concept lie in what Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the internet, calls “linked data”. Berners Lee claims there is a latent, largely untapped potential of the world wide web to link data sets and information together. It’s also called ‘the semantic web’ – a “common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.” It’s beneficial for humans in the increased ability to find, share and organise data better, but also in that machines could then parse these vast data sets and analyse and act on information. In scientific fields, linked data is being used to great effect – it enables researchers to share information, connect and combine and to draw on a wider range of data to further their research.
To enable this, data needs to have a common framework. I see two parts to this – the meta-data side of things, and the copyright factor. Looking into meta-data can get pretty heavy: syntaxes, frameworks, protocols and languages. My layman’s view of this is when sharing resources online, make sure you have descriptions, tags, titles, and file-types clearly set to enable others to find your stuff. It’s no good though if other people then can’t use those resources, so attaching a Creative Commons license becomes essential. There are some wonderful initiatives already in place supporting and collecting these ‘Open Educational Resources’, the OER Commons for example.
In New Zealand, an online environment called Pond is currently being introduced with the aim of uniting“New Zealand teachers, school administrators and students with providers of educational content and services.” This is a step in the right direction as Pond requires resources submitted to be tagged and a short description given, which then makes discovery and linking more possible. Resources can be rated, recommended and commented upon too. It has great potential if teachers share quality resources, tag them appropriately, and share with a Creative Commons license. Critical use of these resources, however, remains the role of the teacher.
I would love to see the Pond become a Lake, or even an Ocean in the future. While there are indeed over 2500 schools in New Zealand, imagine if it were opened up to a wider constituency. All that data – pictures, stories, songs, tools, plans, theory, ideas, games – it’s all out there. We just need to harness the power of our networks to connect it all together and make it accessible.
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New media tools and frameworks have facilitated the rapid expansion of participatory, collaborative learning opportunities. I say expansion rather than generation because humans have always learned from one another throughout history. The New Zealand curriculum states “facilitating shared learning” as a valid, effective pedagogy. It’s just that in our current times, more than ever, we have the tools and infrastructure to enable these kinds of interactions to a previously unavailable extent.
The web allows people to come together in communities of like minded individuals, communicate with one another – work, play, and think together. The world has become more open. Content and data which was previously holed up in libraries or labs can now be accessed, commented on, and developed further. The world’s history is in the process of being digitised, catalogued and made searchable.
These nodes of knowledge are being connected together like synapses in the brain to other nodes – both real people (amateurs, experts, communities) and other pieces of data. Connections between previously unconnected nodes create new avenues of thinking, help solve problems and drive further questioning.
This availability of knowledge however, is challenging the traditional definitions of “teacher” and “student”. It begs the question – if all of the knowledge I’ll ever possibly need is a Google away, why do I need to be taught things from a teacher? Does the role of “teacher as expert” still exist?
This is one of my personal aims in this course – to explore what it means to be a teacher in these times of enormous change; the interplay between new forms of learning possible and the core skills needed to be taught to enable effective participation with them. As a primary school teacher responsible for laying foundational skills and knowledge to students aged 6 to 11, as well as growing their capability to live well in the future, this is of high personal interest.
So while without a doubt, some core sets of skills and knowledge remain central to our ability to learn and participate effectively, what Thomas and Seely Brown (2011) call our “new culture of learning” challenges our traditional emphasis on certain literacies. It calls upon a new model of competencies. It revises the toolbox of skills students need to actively participate in the world of the future. And this is butting up against what is traditionally thought of as “schooling” or “a good education” – notions particularly derived from the industrial, factory model set in the early 20th century. Notions which exist today in the form of standards and formal assessment, among others.
One of the competencies key to success in the future is the ability to adapt to rapid change. As people living in these times, how well are we dealing with these dynamic, often conflicting ideas of education?
This is the sharp end of the spear as I see it. Change, in practice, comes slowly to education – how can we speed it up? How can we move from isolated pockets of teachers and innovative schools trialling, thinking and doing, to a more mainstream application and understanding of 21st century learning? How can we get parents and community stakeholders understanding what it means to teach and learn in our connected, networked now?
These are some of the challenging questions I hope to investigate as I move through this course, and why I’ve decided to choose “Digital Leadership” by Eric Sheninger as the focus of my book review.
I’m looking forward to the journey ahead, in particular “walking the talk” – being actively engaged and participating in our community of learners.
How Humans Learn Best. Retrieved from http://changelearning.ca/get-informed/understanding-human-learning/how-humans-learn-best
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning. Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Educause: Berkley, Thomas D & Brown J, Souellis Studio.
TKI: Effective Pedagogy. Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/Effective-pedagogy