Sunday, March 9, 2014

DML Conference Days 2 and 3: Scaling Connected Learning

“Connected learning” is a term used to describe interest-driven, peer-supported, academic learning. It’s based on three design principles: 1) shared purpose, 2) production centered activities, and 3) openly networked institutions and individuals. Day two of the DML conference focused on both creating opportunities for connected learning among students from non dominant backgrounds (ethnic minorities, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, historically marginalized groups, etc.) and developing methods to study the effectiveness of connected learning environments across settings (classrooms, after school programs, summer programs, outreach programs, etc.).

As I discussed in my last post, the role of technology in connected learning is both ubiquitous and somewhat invisible. Social media and internet affinity groups make it possible to connect learners who share a common interest or goal, and even to connect students with adult professionals who can serve as information resources as well as mentors. 

The production-centeredness of connected learning environments means that groups are not just sharing ideas, but actively working to create artifacts that can serve a common interest: curating materials, conducting experiments, producing media, remixing, designing, etc. Again, the focus in this process is not on the technology itself, but on the product; technology merely serves as a tool for mediating that process.

Linking individuals and institutions across industries, popular cultures, interest communities, etc., is the third principle of connected learning. The idea of making these connections is essentially to pool knowledges and ideas that serve a public interest, and share resources across openly-networked platforms.

There is a commonly recognized need to make these opportunities possible for learners who come from backgrounds and environments where access to technology and knowledgeable peers is not readily available, and this was the focus of the second and third days of the DML conference. The most intriguing talk I attended was the plenary session on approaches to spreading and scaling the principles of connected learning into schools and beyond. Cynthia Coburn presented her framework for spreading and scaling connected learning in various educational organizations, and covered everything from professional development to funding to infrastructure development. Dr. Coburn discussed at a practical level some of the difficulty researcher-practitioners have in introducing change in schools - think of a one-to-one program or curriculum overhaul. Skepticism and discomfort among faculty and administrators can be a huge deterrent to the effectiveness of such large-scale initiatives.

In her framework, Dr. Coburn discussed four types of scale: adoption, replication, adaptation, and reinvention - similar to Ruben Puentadura’s SAMR model of technology integration (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition). It’s easy to think of these examples of scale as four hierarchical positions, with reinvention as the most transformative or valued outcome, but Dr. Coburn did not present them as such. I think this is important to note, as the subtext of her presentation was not to sell her framework, or extoll some virtue of schools reinventing themselves, but rather of understanding how schools can build the capacity for change, and what types of change may be necessary for realizing more relevant learning opportunities for students. Adoption, for instance, represents a very significant form of change, in that it can mean adopting new teaching practices (such as those that center on connected learning). Schools may not need to reinvent themselves to be able to enact more student-centered pedagogies, but they may need to adopt certain practices that foster student-centered learning, and that scale student-centered learning among faculty. A key component of this is participation among members of the learning community - students, teachers, administrators, parents, etc. But this leaves a big question open for us all to consider: how do we establish common goals to work towards, and how to we foster a greater level of participation towards those goals? 

Nicholas Wilson
Academic Technology and Digital Media Specialist (Upper School)

No comments:

Post a Comment