Wednesday, July 3, 2013

#cyberPD Part 1 - Who Owns the Learning

This is my second year joining in with this on-line PD event. Last year, we read Peter Johnston's Opening Minds and up this year is Alan November's, Who Owns the Learning? - Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age. Hop on over to Cathy Mere's blog, to hear more on this conversation!  Now I have a confession to make .... this book was not a part of my professional TBR stack this summer. In fact, there is nothing even close to this discussion about digital learning in my stack. But being part of a reading community does that to you - you pick up things you might not have selected on your own. So I am filling that book gap and joining in the conversation because I learned so much last summer.

As I read the introduction and first two chapters of this book, I decided that while this book is about digital learning, it's not just about digital learning. I think what it's really about is student motivation, engagement, and  providing students with the tools so they can be independent and purposeful in their own thinking and learning. For teachers, I think this book is a call to be honest with yourself and truly consider your own practices. We always say, "there are many teachers in this room", but how purposeful are we about developing the teaching skills of our students? In the Digital Learning Farm that November describes the critical skill is to learn how to learn as opposed to knowing how to be taught in a traditional school model.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I am a collector of quotes, so I decided to pull quotes from the book that got me thinking:

In the Digital Learning Farm model ... students can become more engaged in the learning process; they do more, they think more, and they learn more.
First of all, I found the "farm" concept an interesting approach. Having an important role in the running of the farm gave children purpose and a sense of contribution that is now missing from our culture. For a variety of reasons, many people aren't experiencing this type of contribution until after high school or even college. The Digital Learning Farm model is an approach to provide authentic opportunities in our classrooms.  I was impressed with how students worked seriously and diligently on tutorials in Eric Marco's classroom, particularly giving their own time to "get it right" ... and without a grade! A common theme resonating throughout these chapters is that as students prepared their own digital presentations, they learned the content more deeply themselves. As teachers, we know that in order to teach someone else, you need to have a deep understanding of the content yourself. What a powerful thing for students to experience themselves!

Perhaps my most valuable lesson came from seeing the transforming power of authentic work for students who were traditionally unsuccessful in school. I realized that many students work harder to achieve a meaningful purpose than to earn a grade.
Extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards. I thought it was so smart of Eric Marco to not grade the students' tutorials. They weren't doing it for a grade - they were spending time creating the tutorials to help other students learn, not only in their own classrooms but across the globe. We have all experienced the joy and rewards of helping others learn - what an incredible experience for students who have always struggled, who have probably labelled themselves as poor students and suddenly, they're teaching concepts to others? Now, that's pretty powerful.

To put it plainly: give students a real audience, and they will do real work.
I've experienced this again and again in my teaching career - if students have a real purpose for work that they care about, the quality is amazing. Whether it's writing a letter to their parents inviting them to a school event or writing a book that others will read, the quality is high if they care and know their work has a real-life purpose.

Eric sees that students really respond to hearing their peers deliver information in an authoritative manner, but using their vocabulary and language style.
I think this idea is an important one for teachers to remember. Students may be saying essentially the same thing as their teacher, maybe even using many of the same words but when students are teaching students, their language style (and rapport) may be the very bridge that another student needs to truly understand the content.

It's important for educators to remember that tutorial designers are engaged in a creative process. That means that most of them won't want to repeat someone else's idea, and they prefer to be the first to take on a given topic.
Students aren't going to take the "easy" route when doing this type of work - they're going to do the work that's needed. I liked how the students in the examples built on each other's work, thus improving the quality of this body of work over time. While the teacher was insuring accuracy of content and making suggestions, it was truly through the sharing of the tutorials that students generated new ideas, both in content and presentation.

"... creating teachable content can occur anytime, anywhere ... it doesn't have to be a heavy production."
Phew! I think this is important to remember. These tutorials weren't assignments, but naturally evolved from the initial teaching. I'll be asking myself this year, "How can I develop opportunities for students to teach students in authentic, purposeful ways?"

Next week, chapters 3 - 4 ... I'm often to the beach this weekend but hope to continue to join in this conversation!


  1. Barb,

    Like you, this was not in my original stack of professional books to read this summer but then I saw Alan November's TED talk and I was hooked and wanted to read the book.

    I am glad that we both added the book to our lists. I look forward to hearing more from you.


  2. Hi Barb-

    Who Owns the Learning? was not in my stack of professional books to read this summer, either, but I'm glad I joined the conversation.I agree that the book is about more than digital learning. Thank you for sharing this insight. It will help guide my thinking through the rest of the book.


  3. Barb,
    I'm so glad you were able to join the event. I have to confess, this book wasn't in my TBR stack either, but as Jill, Laura, and I discussed the books in stacks we realized it had potential for supporting the strong discussions we've grown accustomed to in #cyberPD. I always think the books are interesting, but the learning grows exponentially as I move from blog to blog. Everyone pulls out different parts of the book and puts a new spin on the thinking.

    Like you, I was pulled in by the community. Isn't that always how it is! That's why Twitter is so dangerous!

    Thanks for sharing your thinking and your quotes. I agree that this book is about digital thinking, but interestingly is also about student autonomy, thinking and learning.


  4. Barb,
    I think you've hit on something really important in your reflection - although Alan's book is about digital learning, "it's really about is student motivation, engagement, and providing students with the tools so they can be independent and purposeful in their own thinking and learning." Love that quote from you! It is hard to be honest with ourselves as teachers, but I think it's crucial for us to do so in order to grow!
    Thanks for joining us!

  5. It seems that others have agreed that the broader message you've shared about Alan's work isn't just about technology, although that will help with student connections in places far from home, it's about authentic, needed work. I've found in my teaching that students like (love) becoming experts in a task, then we as teachers must find ways that we can help those students learn what they need to know in order to become experts. That might mean stepping away and allowing the student much freedom, or finding experts that will collaborate with the student as they learn and grow, or ?. It is a complicated puzzle where everyone needs to find pieces that fit.

  6. The bits about motivation and (not) grading really struck home with me, too!

  7. Insightful post Barb. I particularly liked your suggestion that teachers honestly reflect on their practices. Do we walk our talk? How do we release to students? And how often? I want to challenge our notions of what we think we are doing when we teach with relevance, authenticity, and meaning. November's thinking should push us to reconsider what this means within Pink's context of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


  8. Barb,
    Thanks for pulling out the quotes and hitting on the important points again! One thing that struck me was the idea that students aren't going to copy but work to create even better examples-when the purpose is real, they take it seriously and desire to create the best they can...authentic purpose, for an audience of learners they can help! True and Remarkable!

  9. Barb~
    I love that you are "quote collector" you will find may quotes worthy of collecting in #cyberpd~ so many great reflective and forward minded people all in one place with one common focus- To be the best for our kids, our community and the world!

    "I think this book is a call to be honest with yourself and truly consider your own practices." These words really struck a cord with me. My class and I have been making global connections for a few years now and find them invaluable, I am never looking back! But, the more we engage with technology I find myself asking "Is this it, is this what all the talk's about?"
    It seems the more I/we dive in the more I see the fine line between the $1,000 pencil and the innovative ways we use technology. I need to be careful to be "...honest with myself and truly consider consider my practices."
    Thanks for the reminder ;-)