Learning U or Participatory Learning – what’s in a name? Plenty!

Serendipity.

I love the sound of the word and how its definition applies so frequently to dicoveries and interactions on the web.

The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines it as;

the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for

It happened to me tonight. Today I proposed a new elective subject for next year’s Yr 9 students, Learning U (the name it has at the moment – thanks to Chris Prout for suggesting it).  Here’s what it’s about;

Learning U has as its focus what interests you. What are you passionate about? What would you like to explore in depth? How far can you take your own learning and what would you learn if you were given the opportunity to drive it in the direction you wanted to take? 

Students will determine the nature of the investigation they undertake based on their own personal interests. They will use a range of networking tools eg: blogs, wikis, ning networks, to engage in connective reading and writing opportunities. They will be taught how to manage these sites and how to read and write in a hypertext environment. They will learn how to behave safely and ethically in digital spaces and will work towards the creation of a positive digital footprint that they can use to promote themselves. 

Language skills, technology integration and subject knowledge of the student’s own choosing will be at the forefront of their experience. Students will be attempting to attract an audience to their writing and creative efforts and engage people in what they are doing. 

Self motivation is key, as is a willingness to write in a public space and adopt new ways of doing things.

It was accepted by the powers that be to be an elective choice for next year’s curriculum offerings. I’m excited about that; it indicates an acceptance that the type of learning I think is valuable is being considered to have merit.

Tonight, Susan Carter Morgan sent out a tweet about an interesting slideshow available on slideshare. It led me to the work of Bill Farren, a teacher I first encountered last year when I joined up with Project Global Cooling. Bill is a passionate educator with a wonderful site called Education for Well- being. His recent slideshow was about Participatory Learning.

Watching it reinforced my thinking. Participatory learning is what the elective subject I’m proposing is all about. It’s something I feel our students need exposure to; the notion that they can self direct their learning and learn from participatory culture, the people out there who want to share knowledge and help advance the learning of others.

I visited Bill’s blog to discover he is doing something quite interesting. He’s quit his job for a year, and has launched into PLearn, a one year online course he is offering to 50 participants. Here’s how he introduced it in his post;

After 15 years of working in schools and observing and reflecting on the practice, I’d like to attempt something different. I’m curious to know if it’s possible to get fifty people (or possibly an institution or two) on this wired planet to step out of the mainstream of education, if only for one class, and participate in a course that operates under a very different educational paradigm than the one they’re used to. I’d like to know if learners are willing to put their own creative desires and curiosities ahead of doing what’s educationally “safe”. Is the dissonance between how people learn on their own today and how they are taught in schools jarring enough to make them want to try something new? Can the Internet’s currently evolved state and the culture of sharing, collaboration and participation that it has fueled, lead to a new educational paradigm where independent educational contractors (IECs), working in more decentralized environments, are able to offer a variety of courses serving the long tail of educational consumers in a way that more hierarchical institutions cannot?

In order to try to answer these questions, I’ve quit my job as a teacher for next year and built an online space–a class (ParticipatoryLearning.net)–based on the principles of participatory learning, among others.

Interesting to note the idea of an ‘independent educational contractor’. What this means is that Bill is charging for the course he is offering. I can see some merit in this. At the moment, many of us willingly share our knowledge and educate others for no financial return. While that’s all very admirable, there has to be some acknowledgement that the price we pay is time. Time invested in supporting the learning of others while we spend time away from other pursuits and even our families. There is no doubt we learn much in the process, but I can tell you,  my fitness level has suffered and I seem to be tired all the time!!

I can see that Bill is trying to find balance by quitting his job, continuing his learning journey, advancing the learning of others and trying to make a living in the process.  Maybe I’m wrong (and feel free to correct me if I am Bill). Regardless, it’s a very interesting concept and a site you should visit to see how it is coming together.

I’m remaining in my job, but trying to fulfill something akin to participatory learning culture through the introduction of this elective idea. I’m hoping the students who participate (if there are any takers!!) will discover some of the excitement that I know comes from finding like souls who are willing to share and assist you in your learning.     

So thank you serendipity, in the guise of Susan Carter Morgan. You led me to Bill, who got me thinking.

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School’s out Friday

I first saw this well over a year ago but it’s a video you never tire of.  The Medieval Help Desk. I still chuckle every time I see it and so do the students I’ve shown it to. It has universal appeal. Below is the Anglicised version that may appeal to some as you don’t have to read the subtitles. Personally, I like the original.

Mother’s Day this weekend. Be kind and give of your time to those important people in our lives. Me, I’ll be up early and off to an under 11 soccer game!

Enjoy the weekend.

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Why Ning needs an ad free education platform.

I love Ning. I really do.

I’m just not all that happy with them right now.

Those of you who follow this blog will know that I started a Ning for our Yr 9 English classes in February this year. It’s been fantastic. A true learning community has formed and it’s become embedded into the fabric of our Yr 9 curriculum. I’m loving the engagement that is possible and the way I can connect with students who aren’t in my actual class. Just tonight I was showing it to parents at our Parent Teacher night. All were impressed and could see the benefits to student learning that this environment promoted. I asked Ning to remove the ads before the students had even joined and they were happy to oblige.

I also help to run Working together 2 make a difference, a Ning site that encourages educators to come together to share their experiences with service learning projects. Once again, I asked Ning to remove the ads and once again, they were happy to oblige.

Last week I had a moment to savour. Yr 9 students who actively engage in our English Ning came to see me to see if I could help them set up a Ning for their Sleepout 4 Schools initiative. They’d figured out that Ning was the best platform for them to engage the wider community in what they are doing.  Sleepout 4 Schools is a school project involving our Yr 9 students; they are holding a fundraiser for our school community on May 22nd in an attempt to raise some money for Daraja Academy and the Bal Ashram in India. The students are working very hard to plan an evening where we will sleepover at school, have fun, skype with Mark Lukach hopefully and raise some money that will help to make a difference.

We set the Ning up. They are working as administrators of the Ning as well and are excited about the possibilities. They are trying to engage other surrounding schools in this service learning and are using the Ning as a tool for connecting. I asked Ning to take the ads off.

They didn’t oblige.   

And so began the email process of me asking (begging really) and them denying.  Our most recent email correspondance saw me ask this;

 Dear Ning team,

Sorry to continue to dispute this, but it is a direct part of our program and is a vital ingredient in the teaching of our students. We are endeavouring to have our students create positive digital footprints for themselves in safe and ethical ways. Having ads that display free video chats for girls is not what I feel is a good advertisement encouraging safe and ethical use. If you look at the domain names of the members they are all students from our school. We are trying to encourage global involvement with other schools to have them participate as well.

Can I please ask you to reconsider once again.

 

Reply from Ning was this;  

 

 

Dear Jenny,

 

 

Thanks for the follow-up. Once again, while we definitely respect what you’re doing, this simply isn’t covered by what our program is offering. You’re still welcome to purchase the Go Ad-Free premium service, and you can find more details here: 

http://help.ning.com/cgi-bin/ning.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=3547&p_created=1233612091 

Best, 

 

The Ning Team 

 

 Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard to understand how Sleepout for Schools differs from the intentions of the Yr 9 English Ning and Working together 2 make a difference. It’s a school project, set up by and for students. It’s about EDUCATION.    

Wikispaces and other Wiki creation companies are friendly to K – 12 education. You don’t have to request that ads be removed; they trust that if you tick that box saying it’s for K – 12 use it will be and a Wiki is provided ad free.   

Ning is offering an amazing platform that can be utilised so well in education. Please, those of you making decisions at Ning, think about offering a service for education that will encourage users to explore its potential. We need an ad free service; one that won’t expose students to inappropriate ads that make it hard for us to justify the use of what is an excellent resource in school settings.  

 

 

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The Robert Pattinson effect

An interesting thing happened on the way to building readership of our school library blog.

One of our staff wrote a post about Robert Pattinson. (You know him, he plays Edward in this film that’s done pretty well at the box office of late. Twilight, that’s the one. If you work in a library you’d know all about it. It’s the series of books by Stephanie Meyer that haven’t sat on the shelves in months; they’ve been from one schoolbag to the next  and are lucky to be still in one piece after the countless times their pages have been thumbed.) 

And our stats went through the roof.

We now have this cluster map showing big red dots from all over the world and blog stats showing 4,524  hits.  The biggest day registered 357 hits on the blog, and we’ve been averaging 230 hits or so a day since it was posted. Already today the 2rak info 4 u blog has had 50 hits while I’ve registered a paltry nine!

So, what does it mean. Not a lot in terms of the meaningful readership of our blog that we are aiming for. We are trying to have our school community access the blog and use it to learn about events we are promoting and new ideas they may find helpful. I’d say maybe 800 or so (quite possibly less) of the 4,254  hits we’ve had are from our school community. We’ve still got a lot of work to do in shifting the mindset of our staff and students in terms of having them access this resource as a natural course of action. We, too, need to try very hard to get posts up; invariably we get caught up in the reactive nature of school library operations and find time is against us. At this early stage we still have to send out emails alerting staff to posts we’ve written.

What does it mean? It means that Robert Pattinson is very hot property and can probably pretty much name his price for his appearance in the next movie I’d expect.  

It also means I’m about to conduct my own market research into the effect of writing a post about a popular movie icon and what this does to your blog stats. I’m well aware that this may cause inflated stats that do not reflect the quality of posts appearing on this blog that deserve readership. It will reflect the number of (predominantly) teenage girls who are accessing the web to find information about the much desired Robert.

It’s going to be interesting. Keep an eye on those stats.

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School’s out Friday

Here’s Hamish Blake at his entertaining best on a television show that airs here in Australia called ‘Thank God you’re here’. The actors have to improvise after walking through a door and finding themselves in a scene where the other actors have a clue about where the scene may be going.  Hamish is always good value and this skit doesn’t fail to disappoint.

Hope you get time to relax and enjoy your weekend.

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