Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beyond the 'Wow': Embed the Flat Learning Experience for Sustainability

Thank you to Clay Burrell for his kind words about our Flat Classroom Projects and for starting the conversation about 'Does Flat Fall Flat for Teens?' The comment responses to his blog post many and interesting to read, as is Vicki Davis' response via her blog.

Essentially Clay is asking to what degree are global projects working, given the often intense work needed by educators to set them up and propel them, as compared to local projects, and whether the benefits justify the costs.

In response, as I gaze out to the Pacific Ocean on my 20th last day of summer holiday ;-)......

1. Getting beyond the 'Wow!'
I firmly believe in moving away from the 'wow' factor and embedding good practice into everyday teaching and learning. Therefore, even though the 'hook' for many classroom activities is the 'wow' e.g. meeting and learning with others who are not face to face in the same room, the aim is to make this mode of working normal so that an 'unflat' classroom becomes unusual. Yes, it can be a lot of work for teachers, it can be intimidating for students, it can also not be the most comfortable way that students/teenagers want to learn (initially) given other demands in their lives. However we are talking about a win-win situation here. We are talking about providing choices for learning, local and global interactions that are meaningful and support authentic problem solving.

2. Engagement
In order for students to be fully engaged, creating and sustaining collaborations and friendships on a global basis, teachers must also be engaged and model best-practice for this. Clay asked if any of our Flat Classroom students still communicated after the projects finished. To be honest I do not know for sure. There is a lot of pre-project and post-project research we need to do to determine what is going on and to be able to measure how learning is improving. I do know students have created alignments that have sustained throughout the projects and been meaningful not just for the immediate project topics or work. I do know that my class in Bangladesh, the very first Flat Classroom and Horizon Project group of students, were eloquent in their reflections (I have podcasts on this blog) about communication issues, collaboration difficulties and cultural differences that challenged them to the point that they were enthralled but at the same time not sure if all the work was worth it. However, it is this group of students that I still hear from, even after being out of Bangladesh for over 12 months.

3. Pedagogical shift - Making a difference to the world as we know it today
I am also a firm believer in providing opportunities for interaction and learning that will ultimately change the world. I am not trying to be high and mighty about this, or over philosophical, but I do not see the point in school for school's sake. We collaborate to 'create' better understanding of each other and of what is happening in the world. We collaborate to find better ways to do things that can make a difference to how others live, learn, communicate etc.

Another thing.....learning is not a one-size fits all situation. Does everyone like Geography? or Mathematics? No? Well then not everybody 'likes' local or global collaboration, or for that matter group work as opposed to working alone. I empathize with Will Richardson's comment to Clay's post when he says, "I think there is a residual learning about simply the process and the complexity of creating and working in those connections that will benefit the kids you worked with a great deal."

I am reading a great book called 'Three Cups of Tea' that is affirming in it's simplicity, that by reaching out and providing multi-modal opportunities for learning and by joining together people from different backgrounds with a common purpose we can raise awareness and be a catalyst for change. Greg Mortenson's drive to open schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is an inspiration to us all.

So, I say let's get beyond wondering what the average teenager is thinking or doing as most likely it will be something self-centred, but let's continue to reach out and provide experiential learning opportunities that are confronting and challenging knowing that by starting with a spark a fire is sure to follow and that the process and practice of global interaction is pedagogically sound. So Clay, I think the benefits, albeit intrinsic in nature, far outweigh the costs on teacher time. We need to wake up our fellow educators and students to the advantages of cultural diversity, collaborative learning and online tools to support this pedagogically and embrace flat learning experiences as the norm. We need not be 'disappointed' if our students are not changing their work patterns immediately or at all, the residual knowledge gained from flat classroom experiences will ultimately shape the way they approach the world, as it has for educators.

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FManning said...

Thankyou Julie for asking and answering questions about these experiences. I agree, the 'wow' factor will not sustain flat classroom projects if they are without sound pedagogical structures or purposes. Opening up our classrooms to be collaborative, industrious communities is simply a strategy that can make the learning more meaningful, particularly when studying topics where there is a possibility that there would be differing perspectives/viewpoints. But it is not for all topics, nor for all learners. Our decisions to participate in 'flat classroom' activities need to be based on sound educational objectives, not simply to 'try' the latest novelty approach. I love the idea of flat classroom activities, but I want to use these opportunities discriminately, to their best advantage, otherwise the 'wow' factor will quickly fade for our students.

Julie Lindsay said...

@fmanning Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Let me try and make my main point clearer. I am suggesting we should be going beyond the 'wow' and taking a holistic approach to flattening our classrooms. Yes, I know it does not seem possible or relevant to be considering a flat classroom approach for all disciplines or activities, especially along the same scale that a 'Flat Classroom Project' as such is run. However the essential concepts of bringing the world into your classroom via meaningful interactions with peers, experts, sounding board classrooms, guests etc is possible and can be adapted to most teaching situations (if not all). In all of my classes I am expecting my students to move beyond the wow and think outside of the box. In other words, don't just rely on what the text book or Google can provide (simplistic I know), who are the experts in the field? what are other people saying about this topic? what are other students studying/looking about this and what is their perspective? is there a chance to collaborate/create/interact in an authentic way that will add value to the learning?
I do not see it as a 'decision' to participate in a flat classroom, I see it as a paradigm shift in teaching and learning.

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loonyhiker said...

Great post! I agree with all your points. #1 reminded me of the fad diets where everyone jumps on the band wagon and then the craze dies off. Once you get past the wow factor, we need to see how to keep this going so it is not lke a fad diet. #2 You can ask your students to email you 6 months after the project and fill out a survey to see whether they are keeping the connections. You might get some interesting responses. I love your statement on "learning is not a one size fits all situation." (I think I feel a future blog post coming and I'll refer to this article!) Thanks for making me think!

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