How NGL can inform my role as teacher

Networked learning has always been a valuable tool for learning. Recent advances in information and communication technology have helped to make networked learning more implementable in school settings and allowed the reach of networked learning to extend globally. Unfortunately many educational institutions have been “slow to embrace the full social and collaborative strengths of the web” (Harley, 2008). With the ever-increasing ubiquity of the Internet, it could be assumed that students of today have an easier time than ever of sourcing and deciphering information effectively, however recent research indicates that this may not be true (Carr, 2010). As various entities endeavour to “claim control over” and “wall-in” the digital environments that we most frequently access, most users are unwittingly having their experiences filtered to serve the best interests of gatekeepers of information (Cochrane, 2012). Now that I have a clearer understanding of these realities I hope to improve my teaching by implementing changes that focus on students learning to learn, engage, be flexible and adaptive, find communities, and encourage them to have ideas about the things they want to do in the present (Connected Learning Alliance, 2012).

In this post I will present two possibilities for transformative change in my teaching context. Though now, my time in Japan has come to an end, I will use my time there as the context for these examples as that role is my most recent. Though teaching in Japanese schools was an amazing experience and the teachers I worked with showed genuine care for their students, there were a few concerns I held for the teaching methods commonly employed. Teaching was almost entirely outcomes focused. This meant that teachers often lost perspective of why students needed to learn what they were learning, leading to lessons being almost completely de-contextualised from real-world applications. The result of this was that most students were unengaged and quite vocal about their resentment of having to learn English. This is in contrast to the methods of networked and connected learning, which are more focused on finding out what experiences students need, to achieve optimal engagement and learning (Ito et al., 2013). Two major interests that I noticed were shared among my students were visual art and digital games.

The below video (Institute of Play, 2013a) is about an American student named Charles Raben.

Charles discovered that a local newsstand owner, who had been working in that location for 25 years, was being pressured by the local government to  vacate the land that his stall occupied, in order to make way for new commercial developments. The plight of this local community member struck a chord with Charles and he was inspired to gather community support to allow the newsstand owner to remain at the location. Charles achieved this through use of both digital and non-digital methods. From what is shown in the video, it appears that Charles was also driven to use his considerable skills as a portrait photographer to portray the newsstand owner as a valuable asset to the community and an aspect of the city to be valued.

Charles’ sincerity and obvious burning desire to learn and contribute to his community really inspired me to use the promotion and awareness of community causes as a tool for learning. I believe the impact of this, if successful, would be a greater awareness of our moral responsibility to contribute and improve communities, both locally and internationally. If connected with the right cause, students would benefit from intrinsic motivation to design ways for their knowledge and skills to be utilised to assist with meeting community needs. Students would need to seek out organisations and groups with similar goals that could lend examples and models for solutions that have been successful in other locations. In my own context as an English teacher in rural Japan, an good example of a local community cause could be residents of the city who have recently emigrated to Japan. Information about the city and its laws is rarely provided in English so this could provide and excellent opportunity for local students to lend their creativity and knowledge of the English language people in need. The greatest cost would be time and a need for more flexible scheduling. The current culture doesn’t allow for students to deviate from their normal weekly schedules. For this kind of independent work, I think students require some autonomy over their own time-management. Depending on students’ ideas, funding could be sourced from the community. This could be act as an additional opportunity for learning. Sites such as GoFundMe.com and kickstarter.com could offer modern methods of charity raising in combination with effective marketing on social media or other publicly viewable websites. Effective use of these sites offer opportunities for learning to become transformative, according to the RAT framework (McHugh, 2014), as social media allows students’ work to be globally accessible and interactable. The recent invention of online crowdfunding provides simplified methods of donation collection that remove barriers, such as differences in currency or payment method, in addition to the ability for supporters to see ongoing developments and receive rewards dependant on the size or nature of their donations. Limitations that would need to be taken into account include the fact that any use of social media or online publicising may pose privacy concerns or risks. These risks would need to be negotiated with parents and school administrative staff in advance. Administration of monetary donations may be best handled by an adult to avoid legal issues. Risks may also need to be assessed in advance, depending on what kinds of causes and work students choose to devote themselves to.

The second possibility I’ve considered, though a bit more complicated to implement, I think has incredible potential. It is integration of digital simulations. An example of this is demonstrated in the below video (Institute of Play, 2013b).

In this example, students used the city building and management simulator, SimCity. Each lesson, students were given a goal to accomplish, though how this goal was achieved was left up to the students themselves. Two boys are shown discussing considerations for the design of their city such as energy production, cost, pollution generation and job creation. The impact of implementing this kind of learning would be that students would have access to authentic feeling learning expriences and to act in authoritative roles and observe the consequences of their actions and decisions. Classroom work could be given as broad goals, giving students autonomy over the methods they utilise to achieve these goals and allowing their own decision-making processes to be reflected upon. The benefits of this would be heightened levels of student engagement, due to learning being situated (Hanks, 1991). This method of learning, like my first example, is transformative in nature as this simulation software can harness the Internet to allow the decisions that students make to impact other students. In fact, SimCity itself has this functionality as players “in a region can share or sell resources, and work together” (Vore, 2012). The cost of implementing this kind of technology in schools would not be any more expensive than other forms of software often licensed for educational use. Teachers overseeing this kind of learning would need to have a strong understanding of the software in advance to ensure that goals set for students were achievable within the functionality of the software. The greatest limitations with implementing a solution of this kind would be the limited selection and quality of software that is currently produced. Simulations of this kind can be extremely expensive to develop. Increased interest and collaboration between software developers and educational institutions would likely help to resolve this.

Overall, the examples of networked learning I’ve been exposed to from taking this course have really opened my eyes to the ways that transformational learning tools can be harnessed to dramatically improve students’ engagement and attitudes to learning.

References

Carr, N. (2010). The shallows. New York: W.W. Norton.

Cochrane, P. (2012). Internet freedom: Why we must throw off our online shackles. TechRepublic. Retrieved 6 September 2016, from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/european-technology/internet-freedom-why-we-must-throw-off-our-online-shackles/

Connected Learning Alliance,. (2012). Connected Learning: Interest, Peer Culture, Opportunities. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/37639766

Hanks, W. (1991). Situated learning (p. 4). Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press.

Harley, R. (2008). The Fall of the Wall: Beyond Walled Gardens in Higher Education. Brisbane: ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. Retrieved from http://stereopresence.net/newsblog/the-fall-of-the-wall-beyond-walled-gardens-in-higher-education

Institute of Play,. (2013a). Charles Raben, 9th Grade Student at Quest to Learn. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/59098372

Institute of Play,. (2013b). SimCityEDU: Engaging 21st Century Learners. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/77705483

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., & Salen, K. et al. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design (p. 5). Irvine: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from http://dmlhub.net/wp-content/uploads/files/Connected_Learning_report.pdf

McHugh, S. (2014). The RAT, SAMr, Transformative Technology, & Occam’s Razor. Digital Literacy Blog. Retrieved from http://doverdlc.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/the-rat-samr-transformative-technology.html

Vore, B. (2012). Interview: A New Multiplayer Focus. Gameinformer.com. Retrieved 7 September 2016, from http://www.gameinformer.com/games/simcity/b/pc/archive/2012/07/06/interview-a-new-multiplayer-focus.aspx

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