Sign Me Up, Connectivism.

What are our goals in our current educational system? What do we want our students to know and what do we them to be able to do when they graduate from school? What are our main objectives and goals as educators?

Before, I may have said to develop skills, to understand basic facts, and to prepare them for the future. Although this is not entirely false, I believe it to leave out specific, yet important, elements that I for one never reflected upon before this past week’s readings and conversations. Our goal as educators, is to guide students towards finding ways to be successful in our modern age; to help them acquire the skills they will need to do well in the future. 

This is not always in line with our curricula, or rather my interpretation of our current curricula. I will admit, these goals have not always been at the top of my to-do list of everyday teaching, when I am instead thinking of the 26 different outcomes I need to achieve in my French class, or when I am trying to ensure that my students know their fractions before moving on to high school. However, it should be. That is what I now understand after reading and listening to this week’s EC&I 831 assigned material.

This week we focused on the idea of connectivism, which was thoroughly explored in George Riemens’ article Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age and subsequently enhanced by the following short Youtube video on the Networked Student:

This notion of connectivism speaks to the importance of learning as a never-ending process, continually growing and changing, based on the connections we make with the world and the information around us. In our modern age, we are constantly being confronted with new information, and not only that, but we are constantly being given the opportunities to search for new information. As teachers, we need to understand that this is the world in which we are living, and it is the world in which our students are growing up. We need to use this to our advantage in teaching, and integrate it into our teaching to help our students fulfill all of their potential. Our world also presents students with the chance to achieve their goals in their own, individualized, way; there no longer needs to be one prescribed manner to achieve knowledge (and there probably never was a need for this…). Connectivism should inform our teaching, which should (just as the knowledge we are acquiring) constantly change and diversify with the opportunities being presented in our modern world. As teachers, we should not be afraid of this, but rather embrace it and use it consistently in our classrooms.

This resonated with another article, Attention and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies by Howard Rheingold. This spoke to the importance of where we focus our attention, and how we participate in social media. This article really hit home with what I feel as though my colleagues and I are trying to teach our senior students. This year, myself and the other teachers in the senior pod are focusing on digital citizenship, as we are getting our students to create online portfolios of their learning. This has been a year-long endeavour, which we began in early September. Our hope is that our students grow with their portfolios throughout the years, and continue to use these online venues as a way to showcase their learning and growth. However, even though they are much more active on social media than myself or their other teachers, the idea of positive online participation was a new concept for many of these students, and had to be explored before they could truly begin their online journey. As Rheingold states in his article “[w]hen you participate, you become an active citizen rather than simply a passive consumer” (2010). What they put out into the world within these portfolios is out there for the world to see, and not simply their teachers. Therefore, they need to be aware of the implications of their online participation, and how they can use this to positively shape not only their learning, but the growth of other students as well. This was but one aspect of this article that both resonated with the idea of connectivism, as well as what is happening within my very own classroom.

Although I am currently in the process of trying to use connectivism in my classroom through the use of portfolios, the idea of a Personal Learning Environment gave me pause; pushing me to think of perhaps different ways students can demonstrate their learning through the use of technology.

As can be seen in this video, a personal learning environment can be fitted for a variety of students so they can achieve their learning goals within an environment that is best suited for their needs. Not only can this environment encourage students to become more engaged in their learning, but it offers students the opportunities to express themselves in different ways than what we would normally expect. It is an example of connectivism, and of students taking different paths to achieve a deep understanding of ideas and a thorough use and practice of important skills that can be applied to a variety of different settings. I know all my students would enjoy such a project, as they would enjoy personalizing their learning to achieve their utmost potential.

Still, after a week of reflections, a week of pondering, and a week of analysis of my own teaching, I am still ruminating on these concepts. There was much to reflect upon after reading these articles and watching these videos. What am I doing as a teacher to help my students use connectivism? What am I encouraging them to try and what skills am I helping them develop? Am I preparing them for a future filled with unknown knowledge and abilities, or am I preparing them for our next unit of Math or Science or French? I am so focused on the content of my lessons, on the outcomes in my curricula, that I forget what is truly essential for these students in the future? Connecting with each other, connecting with the world, and learning through these connections is what I should be focusing on in my teaching.

While still pondering what all of this meant for me and my classroom, I let the next video cycle through on YouTube. Luckily for me, it happened to be the following:

This is what learning looks like when you let go of the things you think should be your focus, and when you let the students go forward and search for their own voices, their own concerns, their own desires, and consequently, their personalized learning achievements. This means more than any outcome in any curricula; and in fact, probably achieved more of these outcomes than any teacher-led project or assignment that was intentionally focused on achieving but one or two of them.

Therefore, although I am still ruminating on these concepts, and still reflecting upon how I can use them in my classroom, I am coming out of this week’s reading assignments and conversations with more knowledge and ideas that I can count. Am I inspired to make a change in my classroom, in my community, and with (not for) my students? Absolutely.

Sign me up, connectivism.

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