The Current Logo

Reflections on Digital Learning Day and a celebration of Connected Learning

Written by Christina Cantrill
February 12, 2013

reposted, with edits, from In Community

I was the person behind the twitter handle @NWPDigital_Is when I tweeted:

That was sent sometime in the morning as a sipped coffee at my home in Philadelphia. Half hour later I was on a train to DC to attend the Digital Learning Day festivities led by the AEE at the Newseum.

This was the second year of #dlday and the second time that I had gone to the event in person. This year’s event was significantly different at the front end as educators from across the country shared demonstrations of the work they did in their classrooms. For example, Janet Ilko was one of these teachers. Janet also happens to be a San Diego Writing Project teacher who works in the Cajon Valley Middle School. She shared a great demonstration that started with her own path of learning when she had first started blogging with her students and, when not getting the results that she wanted, dove into an inquiry where she asked bloggers about blogging. “Why do you blog? What is important about it?” she would ask. And this inquiry and her previous experimented led her into discovering a way to approach blogging with her students that felt exciting and authentic – to her and to them!

You can read more about Janet’s journey and see her students work at NWP Digital Is.

Other demos were happening at the same time, and everyone in the room got to see at least three. Although a few of these were very tool based (ie. we use this tool, we use that tool) each of them started to dig under the “why” of this work. And it was this “why” that I think created a noticeable hum in the room – authentic learning happening in often co-constructed ways. Not all “Connected Learning” I would say at all … but important stories of practice and explorations by teachers and kids. I applaud AEE for making this happen.

After this beginning we then went into the more formal Town Hall event by AEE (of which an archive is available). Here we continue to hear from a nice range of educators and learners about the promises of digital media and learning, but also, my ears and those of others were also hearing much of what we think are the dangers. And there was little reflection on what I would actually call connected learning.

Although "Connected Learning" includes a frame around making learning opportunities available in a range of places and not just in the four walls and timeframe dictated by schools, the rhetoric of Digital Learning Day included a focus on "Any Place Any Time" learning. As my colleague Troy Hicks points out, in this  Open Letter to Educators: (Re)Defining Digital Learning Day, this phrase is used over and over again with no reference to teachers or teaching. And it gets tied to the idea of “personalization” which another colleague, Chris Lehmann, describes very well in his blog post about this very subject. Personalization in the case of Digital Learning Day, and clearly articulated during a mid-Town Hall "chat" with inBloom technologies, is exactly what Chris says, ie. “personalization of pace while still maintaining standardization of content. From what I understand, these are literally systems that serve pre-determined content to students, “assess” their progress, and return to them what the computer believes they are ready for next.

On a small scale, I can imagine such tools being potentially useful from time to time for any of us (the HR training I take for work every year is an ingeniously designed computer program in fact). On the large scale though, this to me, is undemocratic and not connected learning because it is more about the content than it is about learning. And it describes a path that is created by others and not by the learners themselves. And, on top of that it is all also tracked (see this article by Audrey Watters on inBloom for more on the data aspects of these technologies).

Ben Williamson in an article called Wikicurriculum: Curriculum in the Digital Age, writes about the exciting potentials of a decentralized knowledge economy, as it potentially "position[s] teachers and learners as authors and editors of curricular content based on their own authentic cultures and patterns of participation." At the same time he reminds us that it is important to consider the potentially unintended consequences of the decentralized logic of what he calls "centrifugal schooling."

This death of the centre imagery applies not just to participation in the digital age, though.  Ideas about centrifugality are beginning to transform the media industries and are exerting influence on politics. Decentralization has broader social and educational significance too.

Williamson calls on the need for a "thriving curriculum research and design culture." Troy asks us to “Use your power — and hashtags — wisely over the next 23 hours.” Chris shares examples of what personalized learning "that are truly personal to the student, because they choose them," can look like.

So how do we celebrate #connectedlearning within the context of far-reaching and systemic movements that might be directly opposed to a democratic vision of learning and knowledge? What can we learn at the intersection of #dlday and #connectedlearning?

Justin Reich asks Ten Tough Questions for Digital Learning Day that seem like good questions to drive our work and inquiries in the days ahead. Janet Ilko continues to share her thoughts and reflections and writes "We are teaching our students to be positive digital citizens,  and to create media, not be defined by it." The California Writing Project used the opportunity as a "Call to Write. A Call to Action." And Kevin's kids in Western Massachusetts were interviewed about the work they do together too.

These are the winning stories in my mind. Do you have one to share too?