Digital Divide revisited

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This week I am revisiting the very complex and important issue of digital divide. I recall an early assignment in EdTech 501 in which we played the role of a pseudo-task force to determine how to use $50million to reduce statewide digital inequality. I realized through researching that assignment the distinct differences between digital divide (the have’s and the have-not’s of computer access) and digital inequality (the level to which a user can implement and utilize available tools). Both are critically important.

This week’s article “Bridging the Digital Divide” addresses mostly the digital divide and the importance of schools providing sufficient technologies to “close or at least narrow the digital divide.” It states that schools must “provide full access for special student populations – especially those with disabilities – to the Internet, distance learning, and multimedia materials.” I loved that it points out a need to have a technology specialist on staff to “stay informed and up-to-date on technologies” and help train teachers and facilitate student learning. That’s my current role and I feel like it critical to our school accomplishing our technology vision.

While I don’t question the importance of universal access, I do have a slightly different perspective since I currently live in a developing country. Few have computers at home. The Internet is costly and sporadic. Everyone fends for themselves in this regard by going to their local “cyber” to use the Internet when needed. It may not be easy nor convenient, but they make it work. They find a way. Sometimes I wonder in the U.S. if we mistakenly call it a digital divide if a student doesn’t have all the bells and whistles on all the latest gadgets at home with a high-speed Internet connection, when there are many other ways to get online (school being just one of them.)

The digital divide is certainly a complex problem and one that schools need to address – but schools are only one piece of a very large puzzle. Individuals (regardless of their circumstances), communities, and Internet Service Providers are key players as well.

An article called “Can E-learning Break the Digital Divide?” looks at whether the convenience and availability of global e-Learning narrows the digital divide with students from developing countries. The author, who is a virtual education professor from the University of Liverpool, believes that the Divide is only widening. The reasons for this are complicated, but they resonate with me because I live in a developing country and work with students similar to the ones he describes. I see these problems and know they are real.

He claims that while the potential is there, e-Learning doesn’t provide equal education to everyone because of four main reasons: 1) the language barrier, which includes cultural specifics; 2) the lack of prerequisites which leads many students to struggle; 3) technology hurdles such as slow Internet or old equipment; and 4) lack of course translation. E-Learning courses also require a certain level of maturity and self-motivation for students to contribute to discussion boards and assignments, and many students are not familiar with this type of intense learning. He cites statistics about how many students are studying from outside their developing home country due to lack of opportunity and sufficient Internet access.

Ultimately, the author makes a strong claim that “crossing the Digital Divide is equal to crossing an economic barrier.”

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Disrupting Class: A Reflection on Transforming Learning

VoiceThreadThis is a collaborative VoiceThread created in response to this article:
Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education Is the Future
[I made my comments directly in the VoiceThread but wanted to put them here as well.]

This article has some very persuasive arguments, if not downright discouraging, about the state of our current educational landscape. As someone in this class mentioned in a previous discussion, and like many other similar articles, it uses scare tactics to make its point. It calls for a complete reform of learning, of education, of technology integration. I can’t debunk its persuasive arguments, and even agree with many of them. Yet, I wonder if there is a better way, something a little more balanced, a little more realistic. Or is that what vision is? More of a dream than reality?

I agree here when it says that the key to transforming technology is how it’s implemented, and here — that simply investing in expensive technology devices or software isn’t enough to move student learning forward. So what is the answer? I believe that while it’s complicated, it’s also possible — and it’s an effort we must continually support and fight for.

We need to use technology in strategic, measured, planned ways that allows students to learn the way they need to learn. We need to reach them on their terms and speak their language, which almost always involves some sort of social media format. We need to not be afraid to take risks, to try something new, to fail miserably and to try again. We need teachers that are willing to think outside the box, but to also be there for their students, both in a traditional sense and a digital one.

Maybe a complete transformation is needed, maybe not. Why don’t we start by doing a better job at the things we’re doing and continually looking for ways to bring our students along with us in this great world of learning.

Technology Outreach: Access Leadership Conference

Google presentation Link to presentation in Google Slides

What a week! Last weekend I was in Sydney presenting at and enjoying the Google Apps for Education Summit. I learned from edtech rock stars who are using Google Apps and other tools in brilliant and innovative ways to inspire teachers and students.

This weekend I find myself in Pokhara, Nepal, speaking at a leadership conference for 160 Nepali Youth. I was invited by NELTA to address these English Access Microscholarship Program students. My topic, “Creativity and Innovation: Leveraging Technology to Change YOUR World” was inspired by the three keynotes I heard at GAFE by Suan Yeo, Jim Sill, and Chris Bell. Thanks, guys!

I’ve worked with the Access students before, told countless stories of my experiences with them, presented in the Global Education Conference about them, and even had a feature article published about my efforts with them. They are dear to my heart, even though my time is limited and I’ve not been able to do as much as I would like.

These students have come for a 5-day conference from their various locations to be taught and inspired by educational leaders. For most of them, this is the first time they have left their home town/village, stayed in a hotel with friends, and met their counterparts. They are vibrant, happy, and having a great time, even though their days are long and packed full of activities.

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I brought my two oldest children along with me, and the students were so warm and accepting. I didn’t really see my 8-year-old daughter much, as she was adopted by several of the girls. These are such great kids, full of life, hope, and energy, despite coming from very limited circumstances. Through their efforts in learning not only English, but Western ideals and culture, and gaining the skills that come from true collaboration and hard work, they have an opportunity to change their lives and make a difference in their communities.

My goal of this presentation was to show how technology – when leveraged for good – can be a powerful tool to help them change their world. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can change our own world. I showed several inspiring examples of people who have made a difference. I showed them some tools for learning (Khan Academy, YouTube EDU, MOOCs, Google Drive, Google art project, etc.) and encouraged them to use the Internet at their local cyber for learning. The Internet is an incredible leveler – anyone in the world has access to the same information as anyone else. True, not everyone has fancy tools or a personal computer or tablet. But anyone that can get online can tap into the wealth of knowledge out there. Knowledge is power – the question is, what will they (we) do with that power.

I wanted to open their minds  – to show that the Internet is for more than Facebook and YouTube, that social media can be a tremendous tool for good. They really don’t know what they’re missing.

I think my message got through. It’s truly a privelege to work with them and I am always the one who comes away humbled, honored, and inspired. I came away wanting to make a small difference in my own world. Hopefully, this weekend I have done that in some small way.

Oh, and at the last minute I decided to give away a nearly new Dell Streak 7 that my dad donated. I didn’t want to draw random names out of a hat: I wanted it to go to someone who would really appreciate it and use it for good. So, I had anyone interested write an essay. Here are a few quotes from the 22 responses:

How I Can Use Social Media to be a Global Citizen

  • “Social media are those media which not only helps to connect with one individual, society, or country but it includes or connects to whole world”
  • “I can search or explore new inventions about science and technology”
  • “Today our world is becoming narrower as it is a village because of social media”
  • “We can use Facebook for making new friends from different sides and corners of the world”
  • “The coolest thing about social media is its global nature for me. It’s great to go to bed and know people are communicating, opinions are being debated, and news is being created and shared.”
  • “Knowing that the world is full of decent, intelligent, caring people and being able to tap into this, the biggest pool of all, gives positive outlook indeed. We are moving from consumption to communication and co-creation.”
  • “We can upload our problems”
  • “When we share about our idea that idea will reads one/two person then after it will pass one to another and another to another. So, it will be provide everywhere. Then everybody knows our idea.”
  • “Social media helps us to know the world’s culture. For e.g. we Nepali don’t know about the Christmas Day. But the use of social media we know about Christmas. And it’s wonderful when we develop a vision of globalization of the human race.”
  • “We know the world’s culture by the help of social media”
  • “Someone say that every things have good or bad things, so as well as social media have both things. We have to follow good things and recognize bad things. So I want to say always use good part of social media and never use that bad things.”
  • “Through social media we can give information to others who are away from us”
  • “Through the Internet we can learn others cultures, religions, and we can be together.”

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The winner was a very appreciative and humble young man from Ghorka. Read his full essay here.

So, yes, it’s been a spectrum of a week – but a great one!

Do you speak MOOC?

booksThe world is full of acronyms. Sometimes I feel a little bit like the barnyard animals in this classic tale who try to eavesdrop on the secret cow negotiations but can’t speak “Moo.”

So, for those of you who might not yet speak Moo, what is a MOOC? It’s one of those terms that has been floating around for awhile and is a frequent subject of both praise and controversy in the educational stratosphere. There is hardly a day in the news or related commentary that MOOCs do not surface. Just today, Voice of America ran a story called MOOCs are Moving Forward in which it says that MOOCs “are changing how people learn in many places.”

M = Massive
O = Open
O = Online
C = Course

These terms mean different things in various MOOC designs and scope, but the general idea is to bring higher education to the masses, so to speak. Some of the big MOOCs are being facilitated through major universities like Stanford, Harvard, CalTech, MIT, and the University of Virginia and on sites like Udacity, Coursera, and OpenCourseWare. The idea is that anyone can join, without admission criteria and without cost (there are fees if you want to obtain credit for the course). They make it possible for anyone, anywhere (with an Internet connection and computer) to learn. This video speaks MOOC:

 

Open, free education is not without opponents, for sure (no doubt including many universities and colleges), and quality control is a concern. Everyone on both sides is interested in how MOOCs will play out because they are potentially powerful vehicles in learning. Unlike a gadget or new tech tool for the classroom, MOOCs change learning design altogether. They just may change the future of higher education and brick-and-mortar institutions as we know it, especially distance learning. These changes will likely trickle down into K-12 environments in due time. It is not only interesting, but crucial, that we understand the pros and cons of MOOCS and how they impact student learning.

My culminating assignment in EdTech 543 was to create a pilot MOOC. I worked with two group members to create S.W.A.T. Students Working to Advance Technology. It is a small-scale MOOC designed for high school students but could easily be a larger project or involve younger students. The objective is to reach out to students who have a passion for technology and help them become technology leaders while strengthening their 21st Century Skills. It would be really fun to pull this off.

Interestingly, we reviewed our peers’ MOOCs using a screencast. This was certainly a learning experience and an example of using screencasting in assessment. Catch a quick glimpse of my screencast here (you don’t have to watch the whole thing to get the point):


Additional MOOC Resources:

Example MOOC-Inspired Courses:

Screencasting Resources for Teachers:

Social Network Learning: Supporting Theory and Framework

Pull up a chair. Here is my paper for EdTech 505:

Social Network Learning: Supporting Theory and Framework

While it’s not reading for the faint of heart, it is for those interested in supporting their use of social network learning with learning theory. It certainly contributed to my personal growth and connectivist learning. Enjoy!

An Evaluation of Evaluation

appleIn the spirit of reflection and at the completion of yet another intense course experience, I find that I learned far more than I ever intended. While I can’t say I was giddy at the thought of taking EdTech 505 Evaluation for Educational Technologists, I did recognize that my learning curve would be huge. It was. I entered with not even a working definition of program evaluation and now have the skills to conduct one.

I began the course by creating a Gretel-at-a-glance word cloud explaining who I am and what I hope to gain from the course. My formal experience with program evaluation was nonexistent. My objectives for this course were to learn evaluation techniques that could help me evaluate some of the big picture programs in a school. I feel like I at least have the tools and background I need to begin.

Many of the course assignments were exercises found in the course textbook so I didn’t find the need post them on this learning log. One of the downsides of this course is that it is not really designed to increase my digital footprint.

Program evaluation “enables accountability” (Boulmetis & Dutwin, 2011, p. 38). I enjoyed reading about the various vantage points and considerations that make evaluations meaningful. Everyone, especially in today’s economy, wants to know “what did we get for our money [or time, or effort]? Did it work? Did it do what we hoped it would?” Those are fair and important questions. I appreciate the detailed explanations, both in the module and in the text, of programs, inputs, process, outputs, and outcomes.

Our final project was to conduct a small-scale but real program evaluation. The Explore Nepal program is an extensive school-wide program designed to help students reach out to the Nepali community and gain a deeper connection to their host country. I chose go evaluate the Grade 6 Explore Nepal week-long trip to a local Tibetan monastery to see whether the program objectives laid out for the trip were accomplished. The five objectives include: learning about Nepali culture through community interaction, environmental awareness, service learning, challenging physical activities, and team building. It was a major effort and here is a link to a generic copy of my final report:

Summative Evaluation: Grade 6 Explore Nepal Program

Summative Evaluation: Grade 6 Explore Nepal Program on Google Docs
Summative Evaluation Flipbook

One fun aspect of this course was the option on nearly every assignment to turn in an alternate submission format using some sort of tech tool. Some people created slideshows, videos, infographics, collaborative corkboards, flip magazines, and mind maps. It was fun to see the creativity and it sure was nice to have this option to shake things up. I wish every teacher would do that and allow students to complete an assignment while building their online presence, developing creativity, and taking ownership of their learning.

While I didn’t love everything about this course and would have liked more focus on education and technology, I certainly learned a lot that will serve me well, even if I don’t become a professional evaluator. What a ride it has been!

Other coursework:
Evaluation Design Format
Gap Analysis
Program Cycle
Goal-Based Method, Design, and Type
Top 3 Sites on Data Analysis
Review of Chapters 1-9 in course text
Request for Proposal (fictional)

References:
Boulmetis, J., & Dutwin, P. (2011). The ABCs of evaluation: Timeless techniques for     program and project Managers (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Social Network Learning: A Reflection

image art for reflection4-page-001I find it interesting that the class I expected to learn the least in is the one that has enriched me the most. Such has been my journey this semester in EdTech 543 Social Network Learning.

We’ve all got the first two words down – it’s that last one: learning. This course has opened my eyes to the powerful learning tool that social media and social networking can be. I’ll try to sum things up with a few before-and-after glimpses of what I have learned to help paint a better picture.

Before: Twitter is for people who have a lot of time on their hands and want to follow celebrities or make political statements. What could I possibly have to say in 140 characters?
After: Twitter is a resource so versatile and powerful that it can be used in the classroom and for painless professional development. I’ve truly been converted, as shown in Twitter Power. In just two months I have found dozens of helpful resources. I found out about the Global Education Conference and actually presented two sessions. Each time I check Twitter I walk away feeling enlightened and inspired.

Before: Pinterest is a much-too-pretty time-waster for people who love to cook and craft
After: Many educators use Pinterest in remarkable and creative ways to curate resources, share ideas, and enlighten students. My two boards so far (My Personal Learning Environment and EdTech Spotlight: Resources Educators Should Try) have strengthened my digital footprint and inspired me to create more.

Before: No one really cares what I have to say
After: It is my digital duty to contribute academic and sound content to the cyberspace knowledge cloud. My Periodic Table of Connectivism was picked up on Twitter, Scoop.It, and various blogs and websites. I still get dozens of views on it weekly. My presentation  My Digital Footprint and PLN currently has over 3,000 views on Slideshare since I created it two months ago. I’ve used it as the backbone for a huge presentation proposal I’ve submitted to an international conference. Point? Educators, professionals, and students are looking for specific content and topics and appreciate well-researched resources.

Before: Social networking really means Facebook
After: I am amazed at how many social networking tools that can be used for specific learning purposes. My Personal Learning Environment has grown immensely in this course. I’ve developed my personal brand and identity on Learnist, Classroom 2.0, Pinterest, Slideshare, Edmodo, and updated several other profiles on sites I’ve been using for a long time. I’m consistent and intentional in what I put out there.

Before: Social network learning is used interchangeably with social media and social networking
After: I ended up writing my very dense EdTech 504 paper on Social Network Learning: Supporting Theory and Framework. Social network learning is about learning in connected ways. It’s deep and powerful. Social media are the tools that facilitate this connection, and social networking involves using these tools to find new connections. The focus of this class has been on the learning.

I could go on. I’ve developed a social media acceptable use policy. I’ve created an infographic representing my Personal Learning Environment. I’ve created a MOOC prototype. I’ve communicated, connected, and collaborated with my peers spread across dozens of time zones through Facebook, Moodle, and Google Docs. I’ve received beneficial instruction and feedback from my professor Jackie Gerstein, who lives what she preaches and lives it well.

My digital life is deeper, richer, and more meaningful – and it’s only just begun!

Photos at top used under Flickr Creative Commons from the yes man and Anja Jonsson

Social Media Policy

A Teacher’s Guide to Social Media
From: OnlineColleges.net

Our school, like many, has an Acceptable Use Policy that students and parents must sign if they are to use any computer at school. It helps to ensure that students use school resources (both hardware and bandwidth) in appropriate ways. It keeps them safe and holds them accountable.

Part of my assignment this week in EdTech543 is to craft a social media policy or establish a plan to create one. In looking around for various examples of what other K-12 schools have done, it’s clear that each school does what works for them.

I’m disappointed, though not surprised, to see how many districts and schools ban external social media sites completely. Sure, it may protect and cushion students, but it also creates a long-term problem of not helping students learn to navigate a world they are already using daily. Schools do students a huge disservice and only compound the problem by feeding school-life-home disconnect. Students will still use social media outside of school but are given virtually no practice to use it wisely and well – and certainly not for learning.

It’s a complex issue, and one that is not easily solved. But rather than shut social media out completely, schools should use social media sites to teach and empower students. Use them to create a safe environment that lets students practice social media etiquette and appropriate online behavior. Let them discover these sites’ potential for learning and engage them in collaborative learning environments.

I have drafted a social media policy for our school and will present it to the Technology Committee for preliminary review and hopefully adoption. I believe it’s important to have this in place in addition to an Acceptable Use Policy, because 1) it states our belief that social media has a valuable place in our school; 2) it educates students, parents, and teachers on appropriate online behavior within social media sites; and 3) it helps ensure that everyone is accountable and safe.

Positive Examples:
Do you need help convincing others of the power of using social media in schools? Maybe you feel like it’s a lost cause. Perhaps in your area or school it is. There are, however, some trailblazing schools who are paving the way for more socially connected classrooms. I created this Diigo list of Social Network Educational Projects that showcases examples of how K-12 schools use social networks as a powerful learning and teaching strategy.

Further Resources:

Integration Strategies
60 Ways To Use Twitter In The Classroom By Category
50 Ways Schools Can Use Google+ Hangouts
100 Ways To Use Facebook In Your Classroom
The Teacher’s Guide to Facebook
Twitter in the K-8 Classroom
Teaching with Google+

Policy
How to Create Social Media Guidelines for your School
Connected Learning Community Essentials
Making the Case for Social Media in Education
Every Educator Has a Story…Just Tell It

Growing my Personal Learning Environment

My Personal Learning EnvironmentIf I was a seed at the beginning of this week, I’ve definitely gained a few roots, stems, and possibly even a leaf or two. Cultivating a professional online presence is not an easy task. It takes time and know-how to select, design, share, contribute to, and otherwise refine my digital footprint.

In EdTech 543 I joined several new online learning communities this week (the usual ones Facebook, Diigo, and Twitter didn’t count ). I had to be an active participant (no lurking!) by sharing resources, links, making comments, and otherwise contributing. What I originally thought would be an easy task turned out to take a significant amount of time and strategic planning.

Take Pinterest, for example. I purposely avoided this site in its early stages because, well, it was just too…pretty. Time-consuming. Crafty. I knew my baked goods, job charts, or bulletin boards would look nothing like its gorgeous pictures. What started small in early  2010 has become the third most popular social networks in the U.S. It’s huge. Just like they did with Twitter, people have started using Pinterest in all sorts of creative ways: including education.

Realizing its educational potential, I finally created my first board. It was actually a fascinating experience but not because of Pinterest itself (I found the interface quite easy to grasp), but what I realized about myself during the process. Rather than create a general resource on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) – there are many, and great ones, too – I chose to create a visual depiction of MY personal learning environment. It is a visual collection of my favorite websites, online learning communities, productivity tools, professional development ideas, and other resources that capture the brilliant intersection of education and technology. In short, it is my digital footprint. It is me.

[PLE’s, by the way, differ from Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). PLEs are the larger circle, that include our resources, productivity tools, blogs, etc., whereas PLNs are a smaller circle inside our PLE circle consisting of the networks are are part of.]

So, I joined several as depicted on my Pinterest board including Edmodo, Global Ed Con and iEarn (I even submitted a learning proposal and was accepted!), and Classroom 2.0. I also spent some time on Learnist and Google Plus exploring, finding people to follow, making comments, and gleaning resources.

I created a PLE diagram that shows connections between all of these communities. While I like the interactivity of the Pinterest board, I needed something that could visualize a network, nodes, connections, branches, growth, or other relationships that are core to a PLE. I chose to use Easel.ly, an online infographic design tool (pretty but a bit tricky). I even attempted to align my communities and resources with the NETS for Teacher standards. Here is my finished product:


easel.ly

In comparing my PLE representation and that of my classmates, we share some commonalities and differences. We are largely part of the same core group of networks (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter), use many of the same productivity tools (Evernote, Diigo, Google Apps, Zotero), share via some of the same platforms (Slideshare, VoiceThread, Prezi), and include job-specific resources, blogs, and communities. While our representation of such networks differ visually and in their taxonomy, the overall effect is that of being connected to a greater pool of knowledge, resources, and individuals that we would ever achieve without today’s technology tools.

This idea of growing our network, of growing ourselves, aligns well with the connectivist framework I have been researching lately. Like George Siemens said, “The learning is the network” (2004).

Additional Resources on PLEs from our course module:
PLE for Sustainable Learning
PLEs: A Collection of Definitions
What Is An Online Community?
Ten Reasons to Be a Connected Educator
5 Reasons to Join a Niche Online Community
How To Build An Online Community: The Ultimate List Of Resources (2012)
Personal Learning Networks
A PLN Quick Start Guide
Personal Learning Communities
8 Ideas, 10 Guides, And 17 Tools For A Better Professional Learning Network

References:
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from                http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Personal Growth and Connectivism

My students would find it no surprise to see yet another word cloud in this reflection. I love word clouds! They are such a creative, versatile tool that can be used for fun, nonsense, and also as a writing tool like summarizing key concepts. This Tagxedo word cloud may not look like much, but let me assure you it represents hours (DAYS!), sweat, and tears. It also represents a newly grown knowledge within me, which is really what it’s about in the first place.  Specifically, this is a visual representation of my 2852-word synthesis paper draft for EdTech 504. I’ll spare you the math: that’s 8 dense, heavy, scholarly pages, not including 2.5 pages of peer-reviewed references. I don’t think I’ve ever written a paper that includes so-far 21 references. Wow.  It’s not called a synthesis paper for nothing. To synthesize is to combine, sort through, fuse, and otherwise make sense of a lot of information. I have read dozens of scholarly journals, articles, blog posts (which aren’t peer re-viewed but provide interesting context), and eBooks. I’ve scoured the APA Style Guide and become good friends again with Zotero. This is not light reading, by the way, about tools and apps. This is heavy stuff that includes words I knew little about before starting this course, words like constructivism, connectivism, taxonomy, and epistemology.  Yet, 2852 words later, I have a much better handle on the information. In fact, what was so utterly confusing and aggravating when I was in the thick of it, actually makes sense. I think I get it, at least as it pertains to my focus. Here’s the plain English: More and more teachers are using VLE social network learning sites such as  Edmodo, Schoology, Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas. These sites provide a controlled environment where teachers and students interact, post and submit homework, give and receive feedback from their peers, and link to course resources and information. Social network learning, which by the way is distinctly different pedagogically than social networking, is like a walled-garen that helps students learn critical skills while in a safe and controlled environment. Most of us know and love social media and it is an integral part of our lives. How, then, can this desire to be connected, to be part of something greater than ourselves, translate into the classroom? Should we really require that our students completely “disconnect” when they come to school from their real lives and the tools that are integral to their very existence?  This paper supports the use of intentional, planned, purposeful social learning networks to engage students in the classroom. It attempts to “define social network learning and its theoretical connectivism foundations, and provides learning strategies that apply such pedagogy in the classroom.” Basically, it is the “why” of using social network learning strategies. I mainly look at social network learning through connectivist principles, and explore practical applications such as Virtual Learning Environments, Learning Communities, and Project-Based Learning. I explore traditional learning theories and emerging learning theories (the connectivism: theory or framework? debate) and use these to argue the critical need of using social networks in the classroom. I have long been a believer in helping students make connections, of giving them a larger audience, of equipping them with the rules of online social behavior while we have them in our reach. Now I have a basis for this belief, and I’ve emerged with an even greater commitment. Since technology has “reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004), shouldn’t we, as educators, be willing to help our students make some sense of it all? I believe we should.  Connectivism, at its heart, holds that rather than transferring, making, or building knowledge, connectivism is more like “growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways” (Downes, 2007, para. 6). As my word cloud flower proves, new knowledge has certainly grown within me. References:  Downes, S. (2007, February 3). What connectivism is. Half an Hour. Blog. Retrieved from 		http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html  Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from 				http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htmMy students would find it no surprise to see yet another word cloud in my reflection. I love word clouds! They are such a creative, versatile tool that can be used for fun, nonsense, and also as a writing tool like summarizing key concepts. This Tagxedo word cloud may not look like much, but let me assure you it represents hours (DAYS!), sweat, and tears. It also represents a newly grown knowledge within me, which is really what it’s about in the first place.

Specifically, this is a visual representation of my 2852-word synthesis paper draft for EdTech 504. I’ll spare you the math: that’s 8 dense, heavy, scholarly pages, not including 2.5 pages of peer-reviewed references. I don’t think I’ve ever written a paper that includes so-far 21 references. Wow.

It’s not called a synthesis paper for nothing. To synthesize is to combine, sort through, fuse, and otherwise make sense of a lot of information. I have read dozens of scholarly journals, articles, blog posts (which aren’t peer re-viewed but provide interesting context), and eBooks. I’ve scoured the APA Style Guide and become good friends again with Zotero.

This is not light reading, by the way. It is heavy stuff that includes words I knew little about before starting this course, words like constructivism, connectivism, taxonomy, and epistemology.

Yet, 2852 words later, I have a much better handle on it all. In fact, what was so utterly confusing and aggravating when I was in the thick of it, actually makes sense. I think I get it, at least as it pertains to my limited focus. Here’s the plain English:

More and more teachers are using Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) social network learning sites such as  Edmodo, Schoology, Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas. These sites provide a controlled environment where teachers and students interact, post and submit homework, give and receive feedback from their peers, and link to course resources and information. Social network learning, which by the way is distinctly different pedagogically than social networking, is like a walled-garen that helps students learn critical skills while in a safe and controlled environment.

Most of us know and love social media, and it is an integral part of our lives. How, then, can this desire to be connected, to be part of something greater than ourselves, translate into the classroom? Should we really require that our students completely “disconnect” when they come to school from their real lives and the tools that are integral to their very existence?

My paper supports the use of intentional, planned, purposeful social learning networks to engage students in the classroom. It attempts to “define social network learning and its theoretical connectivist foundations, and provides learning strategies to apply such pedagogy in the classroom.” Basically, it is the why of using social network learning strategies.

I look at social network learning through connectivist principles, and explore practical applications such as Virtual Learning Environments, Learning Communities, and Project-Based Learning. I explore traditional learning theories and emerging learning theories (theory or framework debate) and use these to argue the critical need of using social networks in the classroom.

I have long been a believer in helping students make connections, of giving them a larger audience, of equipping them with the skills that govern online social behavior while we still have them in our reach. Now I have a basis for this belief, and I’ve emerged with an even greater commitment. Since technology has “reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004), shouldn’t we, as educators, be willing to help our students make some sense of it all? Use it? Benefit from it?

I believe we should.

Connectivism, at its heart, holds that rather than transferring, making, or building knowledge, it is more like “growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways” (Downes, 2007, para. 6).

As my word cloud flower proves, new knowledge has certainly grown within me.

References:

Downes, S. (2007, February 3). What connectivism is. Half an Hour. Blog. Retrieved from    http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from                 http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm