In many classrooms, schools, and districts across America, passive watching of digital content is the norm. The notion is that if students have access to technology and media, then good things will happen. Indeed, computers are turned on, neatly arranged, and hardware purchasing fanatics are united that they are on the cutting edge of educational technology.
As a result, technology often becomes an add on and is not integrated into any significant teaching and learning approach in the school to truly transform student opportunities and results. Moreover, in this model, students are not blending face-to-face learning with e-learning; rather they are passively reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and/or watching videos that give them just enough information to receive a “rigorless” checkmark that the work has been completed, if there is any accountability at all.
For blended learning to move past watching the environment to students “sharing” work, students and teachers must feel compelled to do far more than just view learning objects. Instead, they have to be motivated to share work with others. In the e-business world, a Forrester study found that sharing can make up to 5 to 10 percent of a website’s overall traffic, and it drives up to 50 percent more page views per person than a search (ShareThis, 2008). So, how is a classroom, meeting, and/or school like a website? Where does learning go in the traditional face-to-face classroom? It goes in notebooks, in book bags, on boards, and in hard copy projects and documents.
However, in a blended classroom it not only continues in some of those forms, it is enhanced through free teacher blog sites like Weebly, learning management systems like Edmodo, and through social networks like Foursquare.
Questions posted to these sites can include, “What cool projects does Mrs. Jones’ AP Chemistry class do?”. A subsequent student might say, “Mrs. Jones loves bringing Chemistry to life. Check out one of the websites she used last year to get us all thinking about real world Chemistry and chemical warfare”. Not only are these comments shared by all users, they live on; they are archived; and students can refer back to them, organize them, and/or relearn them at any time.
Thus, sharing work on the web, on devices, via text, and/or daily on an electronic discussion forum or bulletin board leads to students personalizing experiences and communicating with one another as to different perspectives, resources, and methods that previously had been relegated to just the student-teacher relationship.
So why is sharing learning so discouraged in our current educational system? American education in general has to be one of the worst overall customer service experiences in the modern world. We all have opinions on what we like about it, what we don’t, and what needs to change, but yet we keep “buying” the same bad product. Why?
Because many educators want a closed system. They are uncomfortable with sites like Rate My Teachers. Well, imagine in the very near future when parents can track analytics on sites like these for the past five years that shows nothing has changed with teacher satisfaction or performance. They might just text the data link to the principal on the way to the meeting. When education catches up with sites like TripAdvisor, learning customers will drive the reform on everything from teacher effectiveness to school uniforms.
When blended classrooms, schools, teachers, and leaders promote student and parent feedback on SurveyMonkey, Blackboard, or YouTube then you will see mediocrity shift in face to face, online, and blended classrooms and schools. Not convinced? Read this example of a man who changed United Airlines behavior with a single YouTube video.
The wisdom of crowds is emerging in the educational space, and those who have the courage to tap the power of transparency will improve both engagement and blended learning outcomes.
So how does sharing turn to producing engagement for blended learners and leaders? If you’ve ever created any digital asset, posted an album on Facebook or created an Animoto, you know the amount of time it takes to produce multi-media content. Moreover, Gary Hayes, illustrates that tons of web content gets produced on the web for a myriad of purposes and intents every second of the day. The digital natives of this age crave consumption, usage, and production on the net, and true blended learning environments find ways to provide assignments on a myriad of tools like cell phones – - for example, Poll Everywhere.
They encourage not only student interaction with classroom technologies, but they facilitate project-based learning in media centers, before/after school, and/or at local kiosks like this one in Africa to provide students with ways to assemble and produce content using digital resources anytime, anywhere.
Therefore, access is not a barrier to engaging learning production. Too many schools in the United States have technology and governance infrastructures that are used ineffectively in their learning environments. Here’s two leads on how to increase engagement and use existing infrastructures to bridge the access gaps in blended school/community settings. Still not convinced engagement practices need to be elevated in America’s schools?
E-curators have turned the education engagement landscape upside down. We need to continue this trend to promote, celebrate and create e-curators in blended classrooms and tap the power of our brightest teachers and students to do so. Not unlike turning on and/or unleashing life long learners in the face-to-face classroom, teachers and learners in blended classrooms foster experiences for each other to become curators of learning, deeply involving themselves in social
relationships. They spend countless hours as community and discussion board members or wiki editors, not only organizing the content for website and/or source, but also making sure that people are participating in the e-learning community as well.
Thus, developing new roles for blended learners and teachers is essential to staffing the new models of engagement. First, we need to rethink the role of educational services to create blended classrooms. Sure, you have to have a face-to-face teacher. But, what about an e-mentor who logs on at night to help learners on the web, and/or via a mobile device? Or, the educator who enlists a student council representative to develop a peer-tutoring site on Edmodo? Last time I
checked, edmodo and other sites have mobile applications, and you may be amazed how many students have cell phones, which can actually help radically and very quickly close the digital divide gap.
Sure we’ve got “watcher” level engagement in our schools, but to turn learners into sharers, commenters, and producers, we must do more on and with our machines than raise the next generation of world class solitaire players. We must engage the new producers of blended learning for tomorrow’s learning environments, regardless if they are in a building, in the palm of one’s hand, and/or through new and interesting interfaces.
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