I’ve been thinking recently about openness, sharing, and their places in education. As technology has made its way further and further into education systems across the globe, the ability to share information has been made vastly more accessible in recent years. With a powerful device in almost every student and teachers’ pocket, there are limitless possibilities to how information and learning can be shared. Teachers are using sites like Twitter, Facebook, Edublogs and Wikispaces to document and share their learning with the wider world. Open course sites like Coursera, and Massive Open Online Courses are changing the way that information is disseminated and online collaboration tools such as Google and Mindmeister have afforded people the opportunity for amazingly creative works. This is truly the age of open source learning. However, open source learning without sharing is moot.
So, is sharing all that it’s cracked up to be? We now live in a world in which sharing every minute detail of each moment of our lives has become normal. We share photos of what food we’re eating, the shoes we just bought or the thoughts that pop into our head. With openness comes inherent dangers as this video demonstrates.
Due to these types of online sharing in which no filter is applied, I have often asked the following questions, how much sharing is too much? Is sharing inherently dangerous? What is the role of online sharing in education? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? In my teaching career thus far I have been what I would call a cautious sharer. I have a very detailed form that goes home to parents on the first day of school explaining the different platforms we use and allowing parents to give permission for the use of student photos. We have student blogs but they are viewable only by parents, teachers or other students. We also have a class twitter account but tweets are composed by myself or in conjunction with students to share what we are learning in the classroom. Often the tweets are focused not on students themselves but on the projects or learning happening in the classroom. Is this true sharing? I think it’s a start. However, it is limiting in many ways. First of all, the students’ writing is seen only by classmates and a select few parents. Opening the blogging platform to open comments would allow more readers and therefore, more feedback and engagement. Studies have shown that as students perceive a larger readership, their writing improves. The connections formed with other classrooms through Twitter could be strengthened by allowing more control to be passed to the students. So why is it so hard for me to open up our learning environment and allow deeper and more meaningful connections?
There are several factors that can tend to negate the full potential of connected and open online learning in classrooms. Firstly, there are inherent risks involved with sharing information online regarding what students are doing. Location services and GPS tracking in many apps can compromise the safety of students. There are also many instances in which students need to be protected and anonymous do to court orders or protective custody. Secondly, there must be an incredible amount of trust between teachers and students in order to allow students the control to share and connect openly and freely. Obviously this looks different for various age groups. High school students for example, are often quite capable of deciding how to share their learning online. However, this does necessitate some deeper conversations around what should be posted. For younger students who lack the same discernment skills, this must be modelled and taught. Douglas Park School’s Aaron Warner is a great example of this mentality. He routinely teaches and models the use of social media and online sharing with his Grade 7/8 class and eventually turns the reigns over to the students. I believe this is one of the key components of open classrooms.
Education is not a secret, although aspects of good teaching practice can seem illusive at times. It is a public and necessary part of our society. I often cringe when parents express to me that they don’t know what is going on in their children’s classrooms. With the tools we now have at our disposal, parents should have a clear and complete picture of their child’s experiences at school, even if the student themselves is vague on the details. This was demonstrated during the debate with the short skit about what was being learned at school. If there is something tangible and real to demonstrate, students will also be more engaged in the sharing process. There is also a permanent record of what the learning goals are, steps taken to achieve them, and what the outcomes are.
As is demonstrated by the above sets of data, teens and young adults are some of the most pervasive sharers of information online. In addition, the reasons why people share online are telling according to the New York Times study. Let’s look at some of the top reasons people share online and apply an educator’s lens shall we…
1.To share relevant Information…Teachers and students should both be in the habit of sharing information. Information is wealth and whether it’s teachers sharing lessons and resources with one another, or students sharing their successes and failures (failures?..yes I said failures because this is when true learning occurs). Application: Teachers need to model for students which information is relevant and useful to be shared as well as who to share it with (how public?).
2. To support causes or issues they care about… This seems like a no brainer. What a great opportunity to engage students in meaningful conversations about what’s going on in the world around them. Students can be surprisingly charismatic, caring and engaged when it comes to supporting causes in the community or around the world. Many times the students are the first to take action, quickly suggesting a support video for Laloche students, or organizing a bake sale to raise money for Cerebral Palsy. This is how meaningful connections are made and global citizens are produced.
Application: Let students share their passions and the things they care about. Pick a list of causes that the class wants to connect with or support. Discuss what it means to be a global citizen. Challenge students to dream big and to change the world.
3. Connecting with others who share their interests… This is a great opportunity to network with other classes in your age category. It also allows a chance to model who should be in our followers or friends lists as individuals. Some of the best lessons I’ve used have come from connections with other classrooms in Saskatchewan and throughout the world. As students share interests on blog sites or through Twitter, they build a wider audience and engage with the world outside the classroom. Genius hour is a great example of this. When we look at genius hour projects of other 7/8 classes the students up the anti. Application: Let students explore passion projects. Encourage students to share what they are learning or what they’ve created. Model at first and compose Tweets or posts together as a class.
4. Expressing self identity and feeling of involvement in the world…This is an opportunity to model the permanency of our digital identity. Students should build an awareness of how the class is perceived online and what our digital footprint will be. Discuss with students which parts of our identity we wish to share with the world. How involved should we be? Application: Extend this thinking to students’ own personal sharing. Engage them in discussions about how they should present themselves online.
Let’s take the time and get this one right. Let’s show our students the power of positive sharing through meaningful connections.
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