Guest Blogger: Carolyn Foote
Learning in a Community
We all seek community–it’s human nature. We form communities within our departments at school, or with other like-minded staff, while students form them around clubs, activities, or even Facebook, MySpace, gaming, etc.
When we talk to teachers about the power of virtual communities or networking, I’m not sure it’s one of those things that really resonates with them because they haven’t experienced it in a more virtual way.
This is one area where I think the landscape of our students is really different. A large percentage of them are accustomed to interacting with others they have never met, via instant messaging, Facebook, YouTube, gaming sites, etc. Students that do that “get” the power of networking online, and in fact, to them, it may even become routine to communicate with other people around the world.
Teachers who have used Classroom Ning and gotten an answer, or emailed a school overseas and gotten a response, or posted on a blog, and the blog author emailed them–those teachers have a sense of the thrill that it brings when someone outside your circle of influence responds.
But it poses difficulty when we talk with teachers about the power of the network and they haven’t experienced it–because for one thing, teachers do have their own “in building” networks that they rely on, and also, there’s the logistical issue. What if you want a network? How do you get one? You can’t just sign up for it (except maybe in Ning?). It is something you have to build.
And why do you build it? Because you have a need, or an interest to share, or you want to discuss something, or you really enjoy the thrill of learning something totally new and outside your comfort zone?
While attending Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s session on Virtual Learning Communities at TechForum, that hit home. Over the last year and a half, I realized I have built a learning community, and at TechForum, I got to meet some of them in person for the first time(David Jakes, Wes Fryer, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and Miguel Guhlin), and that was a thrill. I also met people who have my blog in their learning network(hi Randy Rogers), much to my surprise, or people who were following my blog (hi Wendy Jones!) who I knew once but had lost touch with for awhile, and some whose blogs I read, but didn’t know what they looked like(hi 2TechChicks!)
So, how do you build a learning community?
That seems like a very practical question we have to explore with teachers or with students if we are talking about learning networks.
So, here are some ways to build a learning network if you want one:
1. Read a few blogs. Pick four blogs. Read them, and make a comment fairly often. Part of the idea here is conversation with others.
2. Create your own site that people can visit. A blog, a wiki, a website–so when you post on their blog, they can see who you are, and what your work or interests are.
3. Join a network, like Classroom 2.0 Ning, or Global Education Ning or Teacher Librarian Ning or Librarian 2.0 Ning. It’s a great way to find out projects other people are starting and join them. Those are also great places to post a question or to ask someone to join a project you want to do.
4. Join a network that has to do with your outside interests–visit a knitting blog or a football blog or a travel blog and post comments there.
5. Join a site like Twitter. The thing about twitter is–you can’t just join it and sit there if you want to get the power of it. Join Twitter, search for 4 twittees that are educators, librarians, biology teachers–whatever your area of interest is. Or pick names you recognize from blogs. (There is a search box in the twitter page.) Click on the “find and and invite” button. It may feel strange at first to invite people you don’t know at all to network with you, but it’s a first step. And if you don’t like it, you can always uninvite someone.
6. If you join twitter, you have to post to it once in awhile. You can post links to a good website, briefly describe a library project you are doing, etc.
7. Attend small conferences. Smaller conferences are a good way to meet and network with people that share your interests. After the conference, make it a point to contact one person you met and exchange an idea.
8. Join a site like Facebook–if you are a librarian, look for libraries on Facebook. Great way to see what students use and also meet people.
Notice the common thread here in all of these is that you have to “put something out there” to get something back of value. But that’s how all of our relationships are–they are two way.
Why do any of this in the first place? Because as Wes Fryer pointed out in his keynote address at TechForum, increasingly this is how our students are learning. He shared his recent trip to Shanghai, and the growth of business there, and how for some corporations like HP, over half their workforce is now overseas. His children are growing up in a world where international digital tools are NOT an option; if they’re going to need to collaborate on a daily basis they need the tools.
The recent National School Board Association report, as Randy Rodgers shares, and as Wes shared in his session, points out that a staggering 71% of our students use social networking weekly. (Alan Levine has been following college student use of Facebook , which is higher than 88%, and has an interesting white paper tracing his findings.)
The point is–we don’t have to “become” our students, which I think sometimes people think we are asking them to do. But we do need to understand how they are learning 24/7, and we do need to understand the idea of a network, and the best way to realize that is to discover its power for ourselves.
Other ideas for helping teachers/students build a learning network? Please share!
image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benedikte/1541939938/Carolyn Foote is a "techno-librarian" She is fascinated by web 2.0 tools and how they will change education. Carolyn Was featured in School Library Journal in October 2007.