The Current Logo
Connected and open by necessity

Connected and open by necessity

Written by Chris Sloan
March 15, 2014

The recent publication of Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom and the conversations around March’s Open Education Week have made me more aware of the ways that my “connected” classroom differs from what I did prior to the 21st century. I’ll illustrate with one example, a collaboration with other NWP teachers and the KQED Do Now program. Unpacking just one artifact from this year might show how I’ve begun opening up my teaching – out of necessity. 

Consider this short Popcorn video by my Utah students who remixed videos created by Meenoo Rami’s Science Leadership Academy students in Philadelphia. The production quality may not be the best, but it’s the process that’s worth examining.

The topic that the KQED educator group focused on for a week in November was the cost of college, an issue of significance to students all across the country. Meenoo and I thought that it would be interesting if our students looked at this national issue through the lens of our different communities while at the same time looking for ways that our students might find common stories. The first thing that became apparent to me was that I had to make my own teaching more transparent; if these cross-site collaborations are going to work, I can’t just do my own thing. I first shared with my collaborators this planning document that we discussed via Google Hangouts. Then my students’ created a list of story ideas based on their group conversation, and Meenoo’s students shared a similar story list from her students. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, all of our students would conduct research around the issue; Meenoo’s students would interview stakeholders like the Superintendent of Philadelphia public schools, and my students would interview people like the president of the University of Utah.

Students next shared their rough cuts via the Twitter hashtag #costofcollege so that the Philadelphia and Utah students could search for points of intersection. In the example cited above, Caroline focused on the fact that she and a team of SLA students had interviewed college counselors at our respective schools. 

Naturally in a project like this, problems arose. If you’ve worked with it before, you know that Mozilla Popcorn is a powerful way to remix media but you also might be aware that it can be a tad buggy. In Caroline’s case, her project disappeared for a number of days. Yet in keeping with the open networks common to connected learning, Laura and some developers from Mozilla took the time on a couple of different occasions to work with Caroline until the problem was resolved.

What my students learned from this collaboration is that there are going to be a few bumps in the road in this kind of work, but also that there’s an added value to telling common stories that go beyond our classroom walls and local communities. Composing from research that addresses national or international issues is the kind of thing that’s filling more of my curriculum these days. What I’ve also learned is that teachers can better do this kind of work if we open up our teaching in order to find common ground with other networks of learners.