The Strength of Weak Ties

Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward...and actually accomplish something!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Knowledge is Power?

In the classroom of the content purveyor, knowledge is power. And that's good. But in the classroom of the educator who values open source thinking and teaching, knowledge is a by-product of more important skills. Twenty years ago knowledge was indeed power, but in today's world of almost incalculable information explosion, access to information is power, and process is power. Having the ability to locate information and use that information within a process that promotes information evaluation and synthesis in order to build knowledge in response to a question of meaning is true power.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Open Source Thinking - Part Three

Here is another example of a great lesson that illustrates the potential of open source thinking. Chris is another teacher I work with-he is having his students answer essential questions about the Human Genome Project. He’s got eight questions (e.g. Should insurance agencies have access to an individuals genetic makeup?) and eight groups. Each group gets a question and has to research pro and con arguments. Each of his classes have previously gone through a two week sequence of information literacy lessons designed to teach the kids how to attack a question and use the tools of their generation to answer it. These kids, at 14, have already become excellent and independent researchers.

Each group presents their findings using PowerPoint, and each group gets 7 slides. On the first slide, they can use text, three slides are assigned to pro arguments and 3 to con. No text is allowed on these slides-only imagery. This forces students to internalize content about the slide rather than read from “digital notes.” Students in the audience use an advanced organizer to record pro and con arguments. The next step should be very interesting, with each student required to evaluate the arguments presented and post their individual beliefs in the discussion board of Chris’ class. That’s over 100 students posting their interpretive arguments in a free-for-all clash of what is right and wrong, all taking place within a digital network, almost all of it occurring at night given past practice. That is at least 800 posts and knowing those kids, I would expect it to probably reach well over 1200 posts given responses. What kind of learning opportunity is that? It is a 21st Century learning opportunity. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

What is important here is that through the use of discussion boards at night, Chris has been able to leverage online entertainment time into online instructional time as well as extend classroom learning beyond the normal classroom day...that's classic 21st Century open source thinking and learning...

Open Source Thinking - Part Two

Let me begin with what I think is a great example of open source thinking. A teacher I work with had a great lesson that is an outstanding example of how networks set the stage for collaborative thought and the social construction of meaning. District 99 supports Blackboard as its Learning Management System and the District has organized a teacher’s course load by “preps” rather than have teachers replicate content for five classes. The practical outcome of this is that teachers produce content for two or three preps; the unanticipated outcome was that this has placed kids from different classes in the same collaborative pool, or in a more specific way, a digital network of students all engaged in the same study of a particular subject.

In Jon’s class, students read Montana 1948 by Larry Watson. In class, Jon posed an interpretive question that had legal, moral and ethical ramifications. The kids had to respond to Jon’s question in Blackboard. Jon received 42 responses (2 sections of kids); from there, Jon selected 4 responses that best illustrated “pro” and “con” arguments (2 each). Jon’s class then analyzed the strengths of the arguments in collaborative groups. As expected all of the posts occurred outside of class and many were posted after school at night.

What is truly interesting here is that of the four posts Jon selected, three were the second posts of the night for those students. In other words, they posted an argument, other students responded, and they modified their original post based on the arguments presented by the other students. The final post that was selected was made much later in the night after a student had a chance to process the ideas of others and formulate his own opinion. Although this was done through a simple discussion board, it illustrates that students can negotiate meaning, and can do so through digital networks. What promise do blogs, wikis and sites like Furl and hold for students in terms of open source thinking? In the hands of teachers like Jon, who step out on the edge each and every day, and absolutely relish it, the possibilities are simply endless.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Open Source Thinking - Part One

I read an interesting blog entry today by Cliff Atkinson who writes Beyond Bullets. In the entry, he takes the concept of open source software and applies it to the process of social construction of knowledge. He calls it open source thinking. I really like this label-a lot. I think it captures to a great extent what we can do with the many tools emerging today that promote the power of community as a learning environment. Our new charge as educators is to take this idea, open source thinking, and create learning environments where kids can create and learn together in a collaborative fashion. There will be great resistance from the content purveyors who believe in “one-source thinking” and that students understand best when they sit and listen passively to the content expert. But it most be done, and the truly innovative and creative and passionate educators will embrace it and look for ways to make open source thinking happen in spite of the myriad of obstacles that will be placed in their way. Much of this can, and should, happen with the support of digital networks. In my next post, I’ll provide two concrete examples of open source thinking that are currently occurring in our schools and how networks facilitate the process, and how learning becomes energized as a result.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Internet Filter Revisited

I just had the opportunity to work with a group of colleagues in my area, very talented people who are all interested in how technology impacts the education and lives of young people. The conversation ultimately came around to blogs and the issues surrounding the classroom use of blogs. I am reminded of about three years ago when the use of the Web for classroom learning really picked up steam and concerns emerged about students accessing inappropriate content. In response, Internet filtering became much more savvy and effective. In other words, the challenge was met. There is a new set of issues surrounding the use of blogs in classrooms:
1. How will blogs be used to support instructionally sound pedagogy?
2. What are our expectations for students when using blogs to communicate?
3. What happens when students use blogs inappropriately?
4. Do our current policies and procedures regarding the appropriate use of digital technologies need to be modified?
5. What kinds of demands on school resources (budgets, computer access) will result from the increased use of blogs?

And the list goes on...

Any school district that understands how to utilize technology effectively with students should consider these questions, and others, very carefully. Most importantly, like anything else, students need to be educated about the proper use of these tools prior to their implementation, with a clear picture presented about the appropriate use and the potential recourse for inappropriate use. Too many tools are thrown at students without this happening and when this occurs, issues will certainly arise.

These new tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) have too much potential. Let's focus on the groundwork first, and lay the foundation for successful implementation.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The New Reality and the Disconnect

The more time I spend online the more I am amazed at the creative power of people, and the Web in its ability to deliver the products of raw creative talent worldwide to your desktop. Check out The Human Clock which is a site that displays the time of day as a photo that an individual or group uploads to the site. The image changes when the time changes and there are also additional photographs from around the world that people have upload. What is interesting here is that this kind of creativity exists in our schools and how are we tapping in to it? I would say not very well. In most instances at the secondary level, kids are confronted with content purveyors who teach the same way they’ve always taught. In fact, they’re teaching they way they were taught. Too much “learning” is too passive. This is certainly not a new argument or a new thought. But today, with all the new tools at our disposal, with the ability to bring learning alive within the context of how today’s students want to learn, and can learn, and with the power to connect and bring incredible authenticity into the classroom, the disconnect between what is taking place in the classroom and what is occurring outside of school is growing.

Here's an example of what works, from Edugadget, and how to use Google Maps in a Geography class. The post in Edugadget describes how a geography teacher could have students do tours and "walks through time, " or 21st Century map reports using Google Maps. There is a Flash movie presented in the blog article that presents a walking tour using Google Maps. A creative teacher with the right software could have students create these types of tours. Camtasia Studio could be used here to capture movements on the screen, permit voice annotation, and then the project could be exported as a flash file. How engaging would that be for students...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Let's get started...

The title of this blog, "The Strength of Weak Ties," is taken from Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point, which was a national best seller several years ago. Gladwell talks about the power of acquaintances, or weak links, to connect people into different worlds. Your close friends operate in a very similar world with ideas very similar to yours-that's why you are close friends. But what if we could connect with people who share similar interests but were not necessarily close friends but casual acquaintances-where could this take us? It is my belief that being able to link to individuals who are interested in educational applications of technology but operate in slightly different areas of instructional technology than I do, could be extraordinarily powerful. What happens to the types of ideas that I am exposed to? What happens to the types of resources I am exposed to? How does this redirect my thinking? How does this change my level of creativity? How do these linkages help create new innovations in what I can do with technology. Well, the answer is that since I have discovered Blogs, RSS, Furl and, I have seen things I would have never seen, and been exposed to resources that I might not have seen. These things have altered the way I view the Web, and altered how I think the Web will work, and should work. These weak connections, all connected through digital networks, have driven me in a different direction. After about 5 weeks of working with these tools, I believe that a new Web reality is emerging, with new tools, with new ways to deliver information, and as a result, a whole new way to work within the collective intelligence of the Web.