I saw Stephen Downes present on Monday afternoon at Wesley College here in Melbourne. As I anticipated, it was an interesting and informative presentation focused on the importance of recognising that learning has become distributed. The message was that learning consists of interacting in communities of practice; we want students to engage with learning communities from an early age so they know how to navigate them, giving them the ability to take charge of their learning.
You’ll get no argument from me in regards to that message. My engagement in these networks has led to enormous personal and professional growth. The challenge that exists is how to convince other teachers to join the show and then how we transfer this to the students we teach. I feel like I’m working towards the realisation of this for my students in as much as I’m testing out the formation of an internal learning community with our Yr 9 Ning. The sheer fact that I recognise that I need to find ways to extend the reach of my students by having them write in a hypertext environment puts me one step ahead of most I’d think. I still have to work towards the realisation of that.
I asked Stephen, “How do we scale teacher involvement”. His reply was model and demonstrate. I’m not entirely sure that the audience on Monday night were ready for the message. Stephen spoke about the formation of learning networks from an intellectual standpoint and I’m not sure that the audience came away realising that he was talking about the formation of human connections and not computer hardware connections. Perhaps modelling and demonstrating what one of these networks looks like would have been a wise move to get the audience understanding where he was coming from.
It was Stephen’s birthday and thanks to a Twitter connection I managed to go the dinner after the talk. At the end of the evening one of the people there asked me if I’d managed to get my work done during the presentation as I’d had my laptop out. When I explained that I’d been sending out tweets via Twitter about the presentation she was amazed. It brought home to me how many people really have little idea of these means of communication and just how much work needs to be done to help people gain an understanding of learning communities and the power of sharing ideas and insights.
Model and demonstrate. Let’s all remember that message and keep at it!