No Longer Waiting for Formal Learning

Waiting by Jlhopgood (via Flickr)
Waiting by Jlhopgood (via Flickr)

Technology has changed the learning landscape. No longer are students limited by the resources that we offer within our schools. No longer do students have to wait for formal learning. Just think of the last time you used YouTube to show you how to do something – for me it was how to break open a lock on a suitcase (well, sometimes you just lose those keys). And what about the times when you can’t find the answer through searching online? Have you have thought about throwing out your questions into that cyber community of experts? See this wonderful video, shown to me by Dr Alec Couros, University of Regina (@courosa), of a young boy trying to start a fire with a bow drill who is asking for help by posting his problem on YouTube. A longer narrative on this can be found here.

What other ways have you used the internet to find experts to help you in your learning? Here’s another great example, again shown to me by @courosa of the Speaking Exchange project which connects students in Brazil with Americans living in retirement homes.

Have you ever shared something online that you learned so that someone else could benefit from your knowledge? Here are an example from our younger WAB students demonstrating how to ride a taxi in Chinese:

Our elementary school uses blogs as their learning management system. Each student has their own blog, their digital desk. It is their space where they post their ideas and work, where they explore, where they document their learning and where they interact and exchange ideas. They frequently upload examples of their learning to our in-house tigertube which in turn are embedded into posts for sharing and generating conversations about their learning.

We are in the process of relaunching blogs for our middle schoolers and re-igniting the interest for our high schoolers. Here is our landing page (soon to be revamped). Why? Why not? I look at this blog and how often I post and, most importantly, who I post to – who is my audience and why am I writing posts to them? What is the purpose? What do I want from my audience? I know that I am not as active has I have been and I am not sure if anyone out there is listening or cares which means that I need to take time to find my audience(s).

Another challenge that we face is this: Unlike the elementary school, we have a separate learning management system (Moodle), and therefore the blog is not the first point of digital entry each day. Therefore, will our students be prompted to blog and if so, will they find value in blogging? I have many questions which I am pondering below:

Why blog? As we all know, blog posts can have many uses: observations, reflections, stories, a show-and-tell, sharing of personal news, or even a soapbox. There are no hard and fast rules about what a post can or cannot be: length, media, number of links are entirely arbitrary as is the content: It can be a public display of homework, a photographic record of an event, a link to a video of a class project, a meme or even a diatribe (hopefully not). A post is [generally] publicly shared maybe purposefully to a known audience or perhaps just put out there into the ether to be stumbled upon by an unknown, anonymous audience. For me, however, the key is the ability for the author to engage their audience in a conversation. It allows our students to break down their classroom walls and to explore their learning in a more authentic setting through the interactions that may ensue – many of which may be with strangers.

What platform? Should we provide our high school and middle school students with a blogging platform, like we do with our elementary students, or should we encourage them to use the platforms and social media tools that they are already familiar with such as WeChat, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube? However, if we, as their teachers, are not in their spaces, how can we guide them? Do we need to guide them? I suggest that we should provide them with a platform that they see as a learning tool so that we can be their guides. Once they get the ‘hang’ of it and if they are able to gain from the use of blogs and see the value of those gains, there is nothing stopping them from transferring those skills to their other social media platforms, seeking out their audiences as needed.

Who is the audience for our students? This all depends on the nature of the post. For example, a student may want to showcase a piece of work that they have completed. Their audience might be their parents, friends, and future employers. The message might be ‘look at what I have achieved’. Conversely a student might be seeking help or advice. They might outline a brick wall that they have run into in their learning and may want their audience to provide help on how to proceed.

How do our students find their audience? Perhaps we should circle back to the large network that the student may have built through their social media platforms. Why not encourage students to send out the link to their latest post through their established networks in order to drive traffic to their blog? Why not actively seek help by challenging their social network to find their audience for them?

I’m excited about relaunching the blogs and wonder where this will take us and I would like to thank Alec Couros for getting me to think more deeply about the purpose of blogs and how we can re-ignite the blogging culture here at WAB.

Please join in the conversation if you have thoughts, feedback or anything to share that will help me continue to develop my thinking about blogging for our students.

One Reply to “No Longer Waiting for Formal Learning”

  1. Mads, we are doing almost exactly the same work you are doing at WAB here at NIST. Currently, the Elementary school’s student blogs are active and thriving primarily because they have one teacher to guide them and it is the one spot that provides evidence of most of their learning. In the Secondary school interest and relevance drops off as there are more teachers involved and more content driving the curriculum. We are looking at a re-launch and have started by asking students and teachers what social media tools they use and if they see value in sharing their learning. Reviewing the purpose has been key and although it might be semantics, we are leaning towards using ‘sharing’ as opposed to blogging – blogging has developed a bit of a stigma as it is often only referred to when reflecting, which has become a bit of a chore for many.

    Another hunch I have is that WordPress, although great a few (six!) years ago, appears to be getting in the way of the learning as opposed to promoting it. WordPress is great for those wanting to learn all the backend aspects, but other sites provide much easier, drag and drop, tools with fantastic results. Having a simple tool that makes things look great is another aspect we are considering.

    We’d love to chat with you more about your progress and give you updates to where we are headed, should you be interested. Thanks for the post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *