my #clmooc journey so far

Our project for the third week of #clmooc was to make a map of some kind. I took the first option and created this map of my journey in this course so far. If the text size is too small, click on the Prezi logo to see the full-width version.

My Connected Learning Round-up for 2012

NotesEarlier this year, I spent some time learning and posting about Connected Learning, in particular in the context of the college writing and literature classroom. Most of my posts focus on trying to define what Connected Learning is and thinking about how the strategy would work with college students in programs that often have strict guidelines about what courses must cover.

Here is a round-up of those posts, most of which appeared on the Bedford/St. Martin’s Bits blog:

I returned to my Connected Learning notes today to prepare for a discussion with Mimi Ito, Howard Rheingold, and Jon Barilone on the future of Connected Learning and how to grow and expand the movement. As I reflected, I kept returning to the same issues that made explaining and recommending Connected Learning so difficult for me:

  • I want to create a version of the definitions, the strategies, and the reasons that they are valuable in approachable language that meets the needs
    • of busy teachers who do not have the time to do extensive research,
    • of the families who see students engaged in non-traditional activities and wonder why this is an effective system,
    • of administrators who want to understand how these experiences will help students meet curriulum goals, and
    • of students who push back from these strategies and who need a better understanding of why teachers are choosing these ways to teach.
  • I want to better understand how various learning strategies relate to each other, where they overlap, and how to explain when and where Connected Learning is the most effective strategy. During the various webinars I attended in 2012 and in my reading elsewhere, I encountered a variety of terms: Connected Learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning, gamification of learning, participatory learning, participatory culture, and so forth. I need resources, even a simple glossary, to help me understand them all.
  • I would like to have a collection of position statements, rationales, and pathways to support teachers who are trying to get started. I would love to be able to provide some responses that teachers can use when they are asked questions at the strategy. Knowing in my heart that this is the right approach doesn’t help much when I’m trying to convince someone to adopt Connected Learning.
  • Finally, and most significantly, I wish I had the funding to pursue all these documents that I want to write. It’s so frustrating to have an idea of the kinds of documents and resources teachers need and not to be in a position where I can create them because I need to pursue work that will give me a paycheck.

[Photo: Notes by English106, on Flickr]

Aligning Composition with Student Interests

USMC Iwo Jima War Memorial at Night, World War II, Veteran Soldiers, American FlagI was lucky enough to teach a first-year composition course in the mid-80s that focused on the rhetoric of war. Admittedly, the topic was not one I had any deep ties to. It wasn’t one I would have chosen on my own. I took on two sections of the specially themed course as a favor.

I was not an authority on the topic. I hadn’t even reviewed all the texts for the course before I began teaching. I had to work to keep up with the readings and the films that the class watched. I designed the usual kinds of assignments and activities, which I have documented in a List of Ten and in my blog post Assignment: Naming and the Rhetoric of War. Frequently, the students in the classroom knew more than I did about historical battles and current military events.

Despite all the reasons the course could have gone wrong, I found myself with some of the most engaged students I have ever taught. Their personal interest in the topic made all the difference. Students had signed up for the course because they were interested in exploring the topic, so they came into the classroom ready to dig into the texts.

By contrast, the overwhelming majority of students signing up for first-year composition courses had no details on the courses they were choosing. It’s much harder in this more typical unthemed composition course to create contexts that will lead to personal connections for students. 

You can read the list of possible contexts for a generic composition course and my ideas on how to align composition with student interests in my post on the Bedford Bits site.

Gaming the Writing Process

The Art of Video Games 2012What would happen if we rethought the ways that we think and talk about writing and the writing process to use the kind of language and thinking that people use when they play games? That’s the question I’ve been pondering during the several weeks since Katie Salen’s webinar, Making Learning Irresistible: 6 Principles of Game-like Learning.

Last week I talked about how to make a curriculum relevant by thinking like a game designer when you structure your curriculum. This week I want to take that idea a little further by considering how a game designer might teach writing.

Read more about the 3 fundamental ways my teaching will change if I apply the strategies of game play to the writing process in my complete post on the Bedford Bits site.


[Photo: The Art of Video Games 2012 by blakespot, on Flickr]

Seeing Connected Learning

VFS Writing students workshop a scriptLast week, I shared some photos that demonstrate what I think students engaged in connected learning look like. Ultimately, I had to admit that the images might only complicate the issue, especially since none of the photos matches what you’re likely to see in the writing or literature classroom.

Writing last week’s post just led me to more questions: What does connected learning look like? For that matter, what does any kind of learning look like? How can we tell when (and what) students are learning?

Learning is never as obvious as we might wish. I’d go as far as to say that if it were, we wouldn’t need so many standardized tests to know whether students were reaching academic goals. So how can I tell when I’m seeing connected learning? This week, I decided to look back over all the images I’ve chosen and some that I rejected to try to decide what I’m looking for when I look for Connected Learning.

I explain what I see when I am Seeing Connected Learning in my full post on the Bedford Bits blog.

What Does Connected Learning Look Like?

Is this Connected Learning?

hackNY 2011 Spring Student Hackathon

How about this?

Engineering competition puts college students to the test

This week I go on a search for photos of Connected Learning, and I find out it’s no simple task. Read more in my full post on the Bedford Bits blog.


Rethinking the Classroom for Connected Learning

ClassroomI’ve always envied K—12 teachers who have a regular classroom where all their classes meet. It’s not just that they have a place to keep their belongings. What I really covet is the ability that control of the learning space gives a teacher to set the mood for the course before she ever says a word. 

Instead, the college classrooms I’ve used are typically bare bones and impersonal spaces. Rows of uniform desks stretch to the back of the room, with a teacher’s desk authoritatively at front and center. Often times the desks cannot be moved. If they are rearranged for group work or into a large circle, they have to be restored to the official arrangement for the next class of students. The usual college classroom is screaming out for a “sage on stage.” It’s not designed for student-driven, collaborative activities.

How can a college teacher rethink that standard classroom to make it more like the high school classroom? How can we make the space better suited to Connected Learning?

I think about the answers in my full post on the Bedford Bits blog.

The Threat of Connected Learning?

Big Sign - Little StepsLike several other folks on the Digital Is website, I was invited to blog about some webinar sessions on Connected Learning. I wasn’t completely sure what Connected Learning was, but it sounded interesting so I decided to give it a go.

After the first session, I found that I Connected with Connected Learning. It seemed to me that Connected Learning was everything I thought learning should be. As I wrote after the first session:

Connected learning is what I’ve always thought learning is supposed to be. It’s about building, and supporting a learning community that lets kids engage with education according to their own interests, building their own knowledge, and reaching out to (yes) connect with other learners.

I was excited to learn more about the model and to think about how it related to teaching in the college classroom.

What I didn’t expect was the response I got to my discussion of Connected Learning. I posted “Can Connected Learning Work at the College Level?” on another blog I contribute to, and I was quickly taken to task by a commenter. The definition of Connected Learning I shared led to the criticism that “‘connected learning’ is yet another buzz word for the corporatization of education.” Further, Connected Learning was accused of being devoid of critical thinking and of relying on “a formula for students getting what they already want to find . . . . . [rather than] broadening horizons to discover what is not already known.”

I was gobsmacked. The comments seemed to describe something diametrically opposed to what I had come to believe was Connected Learning. I assumed that I had misspoken, being, as I am, somewhat new to Connected Learning. I replied and tried to provide evidence to counter the criticisms. I hoped the additional links and details would solve the confusion.

So imagine my surprise when today I found a new criticism of Connected Learning on that post. Today’s commenter “take[s] exception to framing our educational system as broken or wrong.” She continues:

Our system gets the majority of kids out able to read, do basic math, and many with strong enough skills to go on to college. We can do better, but the system itself is not broken or wrong — it works for a majority of kids.

Apparently the word broken is another buzzword in educational literature. My first commenter returned to join the bandwagon. He explains:

The declaration that a given education system (which, for Americans, means public education) is "broken" is often the rhetorical leading edge to some scheme or other to replace it with something else: eg., a voucher system to encourage private school attendance, a charter school system that abolishes teacher tenure and any modicum of academic freedom or independence, or a for-profit learning management package whose adoption converts teachers into automatons. In short, the rhetoric of educational "failure" is part of a code whose semiotic significance is something that educators should be both aware and wary of.

So today I’m left with a post where Connected Learning is lumped in with all the problems of education: vouchers, the loss of tenure, the denial of academic freedom, for-profit education, and so forth.

Who knew Connected Learning was so threatening? Certainly not me. I had no idea that Connected Learning would lead to this response, and I’m no longer sure what to say. I want to reach out to those of you know know more about Connected Learning and ask some questions:

  • Have you dealt with similar responses when they talk about Connected Learning?
  • How do you respond to the critiques that have been raised?
  • What advice can you offer to someone talking about Connected Learning to help ensure that the model is effectively communicated?
  • Are there take-aways in the criticism? Should we be talking about Connected Learning in different ways to avoid such misreadings?

I hope to hear your responses and ideas. It appears that I need some help knowing how to talk about Connected Learning effectively!


[Photo: Big Sign – Little Steps by flattop341, on Flickr. This post has been cross-posted on the Digital Is website.]


Can Connected Learning Work at the College Level?

I know that Connected Learning spaces exist at the college level. The best example I’ve ever been in was the Center for Computer-Assisted Language Instruction  (CCLI, now the HDMZ) at Michigan Tech. Students and teachers alike could enter that space and pursue whatever they wanted. I had access to a dream array of digital software and hardware, and the space was filled with helpful people willing to collaborate, mentor, and inspire one another. It demonstrated the essence of Connected Learning principles.

How many colleges and universities would be willing to shift alllearning to that kind of Connected Learning space though? Would schools give up well-defined courses, structured syllabi, and departmental goals? Adopting Connected Learning models would require quite a revolution in how we think about college education—but it’s a rethinking we may need to consider.

Why? Read my full post on the Bedford Bits blog.

Connecting with Connected Learning

Kids Fishing Day at Hensley LakeI’ve had about four hours so far to wrap my head around the buzz about Connected Learning. That’s how long it’s been since the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast I attended this evening. (I’ll add a link to the archived show when it’s available.)

I’ll admit that I came to the discussion with some misconceptions. Perhaps the most incorrect misstep was my belief that when people talked about “connected,” they meant using technology to reach pedagogical goals. I thought it was going to be yet another way of describing what I’ve known by names such as computer and writing, techrhet, and (most recently) digital humanities.

I was wrong, and I’m still trying to come up with my short explanation of what connected learning is. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl opened up the discussion with a description of the concept, but I admit I was just trying to keep up. When your definition is so far away from what’s correct, it takes a little time to catch up. (I think we can officially say I was mired in cognitive dissonance.)

Elyse mentioned Mimi Ito, and it was on Ito’s post on “Connected Learning” that I found a video and some additional details about what the term connected learning means. If you’re as new to this as I am, go read Ito’s post and watch the video. Here’s how Ito summarized what connected learning is:

In a nutshell, connected learning is learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational and economic opportunity. Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose. (Mimi Ito, “Connected Learning” )

The key buzzwords mentioned during the webchat included engagement, out of school opportunities, breaking down batch thinking, and passionate learning. And there was HOMAGO (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out).

Don’t quote me on this, but from what I can tell so far, connected learning is what I’ve always thought learning is supposed to be. It’s about building, and supporting a learning community that lets kids engage with education according to their own interests, building their own knowledge, and reaching out to (yes) connect with other learners. If I understand, the notion of connected learning is really the same notion I had in mind when I dropped out of the elementary education major and went on another path (but I’m going to save that story for later).

I know that I’m still having a hard time putting what connected learning is into words, but I realized that I do think that I know what it looks like. It’s those kids trying to find out what that fish is like in the picture at the top of this post. And I think it’s all these kids:

Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge connecting with giant pandas connecting kids Kids enjoy birdwatching at Ankeny NWR

And I’m pretty sure, it’s none of these kids:

SJSA Grade Six -  The Year I Rebelled Exam Taking a Test.

And this kid…. well he is desperately trying to connect. I hope the connected learning pedagogy spreads quickly enough to reach him.

When my son takes standardized tests


[Photo: All images are creative commons from Flickr. Click on each image for the original and more information. This post has been cross-posted on the Digital Is website.]