|This blog post was written by Lisa Fink, National Council of Teachers of English, and Michael Rifenburg, University of North Georgia, on behalf of the Collaboration and Capacity Building theme curation team, which worked together to cover related events and resources through the first two weeks of Connected Educator Month and met to identify key themes and examples.|
“As long as institutions view literacy as primarily the ability to read and write, it stays in the domain of language teachers. When literacy is seen as competence or knowledge in other specified areas, it opens the possibilities to other disciplines and more educators.”
That quote comes from the idea that received the most votes in the Conditions for Literacy IdeaScale project. Visitors to this site were asked: What organizational conditions are necessary for powerful literacy learning to occur? The ideas they submit can be voted on by visitors in order to determine those that resonate most with viewers.
It’s interesting to see that this idea was the one that rose to the top—because many of the events our team covered in the last week of Connected Educators Month (CEM) spoke to this idea that there’s a role for everyone in a school, a community, and even around the world when it comes to building good learning environments.
Collaborators Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Collaboration that leads to powerful professional learning and increased capacity to address educational challenges is more likely to succeed when certain organizational conditions are in place, conditions that are often determined by policies made outside the local context.
The National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) has organized a series of webinars on models of interorganizational collaboration for improving education during CEM:
- Remodeling Literacy Learning
- Systems Convening in Complex Landscapes of Practice
- Learning Studios
- Networked Learning Communities
- Collective Impact
Each episode in the series features a model and/or conceptual framework that is yielding promising results and examples of its implementation. Here’s one interesting quote from the Networked Learning Communities session: “Collaborations are not just about exchanging existing knowledge, but also about creating new.”
The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) put together a webinar that offers a powerful example of the role librarians can play helping students to create new knowledge. Curation team member Gloria Mitchell observed that librarians
can provide support by helping students ‘connect the dots’ (Kay Wejrowski), assisting with topic selection, finding an anchor text, finding ways to extend the project, helping create presentations, and serving as project mentors. Capstone projects place student interests and passions at the center of the experience; benefits to the school include increasing students’ independence as learners (they know schools are trusting them to make significant decisions about their own learning), helping students to become expert in a topic that matters to them, and giving students a way to apply the knowledge they have acquired in their schooling, putting their formal education to real-world use.
The AASL website contains an executive summary of the task force findings and a position statement on senior/capstone projects.
This idea of empowered learning also ran through a session called The Digital Leap Charge that Melanie Koss covered. She reflects, “Digital learning occurs in an ecosystem, it comes from a need to empower learners and educators, to learn skills for success in the workplace and society. The goal is to empower them to become lifelong learners, to learn innovative thinking, and to be considered tech-savvy.”
Collaborations Can Span the Globe
Curation team member Michael Rifenburg was struck in his observation of events during the last week of Connected Educators Month by how truly global digital collaborations around education have become. “I had the privilege to tweet with my global colleagues in New Zealand about clustering and small-group collaboration (#cenz14 & I blogged about this experience) and with my colleagues in Norway about the need to have connected teachers before we seek to have connected students (#cenor14).”
Curation team member Marisa Crabtree covered an October 31st webinar on “Open Leadership for the Open and Connected Learning MOOC” (#oclmooc). (For those not familiar with this acronym, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.) This movement started in Alberta, Canada, and has an active weekly Twitter conversation and blog (http://oclmooc.wordpress.com/about-oclmooc/). The goal is to create a digital, collaborative space where teachers in Alberta and around the world can discuss questions related to teaching and respond to specific weekly prompts.
While just last year MOOCs were either the panacea or the death of higher education (depending on your source), heated debate has seemed to wane recently, with outlets such as the Chronicle of Higher Education spending less and less ink on this topic. However, now that a recent Nature article has reported that the most common user of a MOOC is an educated young man, MOOCs will struggle even more to be seen as the greater leveler of access to (higher) education.
Curation team member Maria Clinton covered an event on connecting classrooms with Skype. According to Clinton, “teachers use Skype to overcome budget and time constraints. Using Skype, they can contact people willing to work with their kids for free.” And much of the webinar showed how these collaborations enable classrooms to take virtual filed trips around the globe without ever leaving their desks. One creative game Clinton reported on is called Mysteryskype, in which two classrooms are connected and the game is to guess the location of the other class by asking questions.
October’s professional learning shines a light on what education in a globally connected and flattened society can look like. We live in a world today where students and educators are able to reach across countries and borders to connect in the name of educating. Here’s to moving this idea forward!